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Two book reviews of:
by Melvin Burgess
Charities criticise sexually explicit children's novel
By Alexandra Frean,
A CHILDREN’S novel containing graphic depictions of sex between a boy and his woman teacher and stamped with the words “warning: explicit content” is causing controversy even before it has gone on sale. Critics of Doing It by Melvin Burgess are concerned that its positioning in the “young adult” section of book stores and libraries is a marketing ploy designed to attract a much younger readership, for whom its sexually explicit language may be inappropriate.
Sex education campaigners said that they were concerned that the book, to be published in May, could add to peer pressure on younger teenagers to have under-age sex, by contributing to the myth that “everybody is doing it”.
Doing It is billed by its publisher, Andersen Press, as “a knobby book for boys”. Its cover announces it as “Melvin Burgess’s latest assault on teenage morals”.
The novel tells the story of three testosterone-charged sixth-formers. Much of it is taken up with the boys’ bragging dirty talk about sex and girls.
One is seduced by a highly manipulative teacher and gets drawn into a controlling sexual relationship with her. Another grapples with a fat girl’s attraction for him and his fear of being ridiculed for liking her.
Robert Whelan, director of Family Youth Concern, said:
He said marketing the book to older teenagers was bound to attract younger readers.
Nick Seaton, of the Campaign for Real Education, agreed that younger readers would be attracted to it.
Jan Barlow, of Brook, the sexual health charity, said that although she welcomed anything that would encourage young men to think and talk about sex in an open, informed and sensible way, there was a danger that it could add to the pressure on younger teenagers to become sexually active.
Klaus Flugge, Andersen’s managing director, said the book was being marketed responsibly.
Francesca Dow, managing director of Puffin Books, which publishes Burgess’s book in paperback, said:
Burgess’s novel Junk, about a teenage girl who becomes addicted to heroin after running away from her dysfunctional family, won the distinguished children’s literature prize in 1997, the Carnegie Medal, but was heavily criticised as being unsuitable for young readers.
His last book, Lady: My Life as a Bitch, a fantasy about a sexually active teenage girl who gets turned into a dog on heat, was also praised by critics, but condemned by some for its graphic portrayal of sex.
Should Doing It be published by a children's imprint?
They always say a book aimed at young people should start with a bang. How about this one?
Just a shock to draw you in, you think, till the conversation unfolds:
On it goes, comparing the turn-offs of poor Jenny, "the ugliest girl in college", and the tramp with "rotten teeth and smelly breath, bits of old kebab rotting in her teeth. Cold sores, probably. Ulcers." Perhaps it gets better, you think. Well, perhaps it does, if you think "the gentle hiss of a roomful of drenching gussets", or a girl "with her knickers hardly covering her bush", or "I slid my hand down her arse and tickled her crack" are improvements.
No. It gets worse, right down to the touching prayer,
And the sensitive observation that
I should stop. Spare you the counting of the number of fingers a boy managed to fit up inside his girl, a lad's heavy petting before coming back to
The charming exchanges of courtship:
And, of course, Dino's discovery of his first girl's bottom:
The strapline across the bound proofs in front of me claim this book (to be published in May) is Melvin Burgess's "latest assault on teenage morals". The Observer's quite wrong there. Young girls will be begging their parents to send them to single sex schools. Reading this will put many off dating for years.
What are three separate children's publishers thinking of, peddling this grubby book, which demeans both young women and young men? It will prove as effective a form of sexual bullying as any hardcore porno mag passed round. And, make no mistake, the publishers may slap a warning and a picture of a condom on the front and substitute a grown-up penguin for a puffin, but it was the children's publisher Andersen Press that commissioned this novel.
It is Random House Children's Books who have it in their catalogue beside Emma Chichester Clark's Up in Heaven and Ken Brown's What's the Time, Grandma Wolf? (ages 4 and up). And the people who are putting most into this book are Penguin Children's Books, who were thrilled to win the paperback auction.
Advertising across London buses for Burgess's current novel, Lady ("The book your parents don't want you to read"), shows up for the hypocrisy it is Penguin's claim to publish this "responsibly". Everything about it has gone through the children's side: purchase, editing, publicity. The only unusual aspect is the sudden decision to stop sending out proofs. (Getting nervous?)
It has justified its choice by claiming the book is a fine piece of work,
My own favourite lines are
Penguin's next argument relates to the virtues of "realism". God help the publishers and their grubby little lives if they think this tosh is realistic. Do young female teachers really flash their knickers at pupils, and give them countless blow jobs behind school stage curtains - even falsify maths reports to create detentions that offer more time for the lad's priapic efforts?
Even if they did (which they don't), it's no good argument. Serial murderers do unspeakable things and even adult publishing houses face honourable resignations when they decide to publish graphic accounts. Remember American Psycho ?
It'll get boys to read, Penguin says. Well, teachers won't be handing it out, once they've got to the bit where the lad brags
Why should girls' self-esteem and self-respect be sacrificed in the unlikely hope that, instead of standing in the corner of the classroom sniggering while someone else reads out the marked filthy bits, each reluctant reader will go to the library to fill in a request card?
No girl or young woman should ever have to read these vile, disgusting musings about themselves. The publishers may claim they are the real thoughts of young men. But would they be pushing the ignorant, upsetting views of four racists, or four anti-semites on the grounds these foul, deluded people really do think this way? No, they would not. They would leave this age group to have to make an effort to find that sort of filth for themselves.
All of the publishers who have touched this novel should be deeply ashamed of themselves.
Astonishingly, they are almost all female. It's time they sat round a table, took a good long look at themselves and decided that it was an indefensible decision to take this book on. They should pulp their own copies now. If it's so "brilliant", let an adult publisher pay Burgess another advance, and take it on to their own list to make a profit. (Fat chance!)
On page 254, one of the characters says:
True. Very true. So why don't the publishers try it?
Anne Fine is the children's laureate.
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