Saturday, July 23, 2011

Book Review: The Secret Year

I'm not sure I would have continued reading this book if it hadn't been my selected reading for our trip to Holiday World last week. The cover was intriguing enough (everybody loves a juicy secret, right?). I often seek out books which use journals or letters within the plot because that is the particular form of fiction writing I favor.

I guess I found it very difficult to continue with a tedious story about secretive infidelity. The book had such a liberal agenda to it. It portrayed the late-night liaisons as passionate and good, introduced a character who is "coming out," and provided the classic rift between the kids who are born into money and those who are born into poverty.

In the story line, Colt has a night-time (entirely sexual) relationship (meeting down by a river) for an entire year with Julia. She claims to be unable to break off with Austin, her current (social-equal) boyfriend because their families have always assumed they would be together. Although disgruntled, Colt accepts this and continues their secretive liaisons until one night, after an argument with Colt, Julia gets in a car with an upper-class girlfriend and dies in an accident. Nobody would ever believe that Colt had truly been with Julia, but Julia's brother provides him with her journal full of unsent letters to Colt. Colt then connects with two other girls, who realize that he is clearly not over some other lover.

I have difficulty with books that normalize and aggrandize the actions of teenagers who drift in and out of each other's beds, casually voicing sentiments of "love," while failing to recognize even the slightest commitment or understanding of the other person. I can let such things go, if there is a deeper, more penetrating depth to the book, but when the entire book is merely a presentation of teenagers behaving badly (and then trying to make it look like this is all normal and fine), I just don't care for it.

Personally, I don't think the author's descriptions of teen sexuality even offer the option for true intimacy. Jumping in and out of bed with various partners because you feel a momentary pull towards them does not equal allowing another person to see inside of you (intimacy = into me see). Instead, it is a cheap and unsatisfying substitute ... a mere mirage instead of waiting for clean, pure, real water.

Plus, the author, via comments from one character, presents pregnancy as a disease instead of the beginning of a God-designed, human life. Colt describes Julia's disdain of pregnancy, saying:

"Julia had a horror of getting pregnant before she was ready.... we never risked that. 'You don't know what it's like, to worry about something (italics mine) taking over your body, your whole life,' she said."

Frankly, if I had a daughter, I might let her read this if she wanted to, but I would certainly want to provide ample disclaimers for the moral and ethical fallacies being presented as acceptable actions. For the author, however, this all is perceived as being faithful and true to the real world. She writes on her blog, "Gradually our literature is coming to resemble more closely the real world in which we live." For myself, I cannot say I would ever recommend this book to anyone else.

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