Shut Out by Kody Keplinger
Release Date: September 5, 2011
Source: Kindle Store
Most high school sports teams have rivalries with other schools. At Hamilton High, it's a civil war: the football team versus the soccer team. And for her part,Lissa is sick of it. Her quarterback boyfriend, Randy, is always ditching her to go pick a fight with the soccer team or to prank their locker room. And on three separate occasions Randy's car has been egged while he and Lissa were inside, making out. She is done competing with a bunch of sweaty boys for her own boyfriend's attention Then Lissa decides to end the rivalry once and for all: She and the other players' girlfriends go on a hookup strike. The boys won't get any action from them until the football and soccer teams make peace. What they don't count on is a new sort of rivalry: an impossible girls-against-boys showdown that hinges on who will cave to their libidos first. But what Lissa never sees coming is her own sexual tension with the leader of the boys, Cash Sterling...
May I just start out by saying...I am a huge fan of Kody Keplinger. Not only is she a published teen author, but she writes these incredible articles that are brutally honest. She talks about sex, love, trends, being a teenager, her books, getting an agent, and her strongest suit seems to be talking about labeling. I really admire her for her firm stance on everything. If you have a chance to check out her blog, you should because she is an incredible writer.
Another thing about Kody's stances are that a lot of her views translate across into her books. Don't worry, you won't be preached at, but you can see why she thinks the things she does and how it affects the actions of her characters. This applies to both The Duff and Shut Out.
When I first heard of The Duff, I thought it honestly sounded trashy to me. My sister ended up buying it and I fell in love with Kody's honesty, and before I knew it I was a goner. Her books really can be read on two levels. You can read it on the shallower level and see the hooking up, the friendships, the drama. Or you can see the messages behind them and the character development and growth throughout the book.
Shut Out has such an interesting premise. A sex strike? Based on a Greek play? Granted, hers aren't the most appropriate books, but there's nothing graphic. I'd recommend it for ages 14 or 15 plus, on occasion a very mature 13 year old. It's not the graphic quality that make people think these are inappropriate (because there is none) but instead the bluntness of her words.
The plot essentially revolves around this soccer rivalry. After make-out sessions with their boyfriends, or special occasions, the boys will just ditch their girlfriends to go prank the other team. People would get hurt. One boy ended up in the hospital, and the boys brushed it off saying that nothing was that big of a deal about the rivalry. They couldn't manage to get it through their heads that it was a cycle. There was no point to the rivalry because nothing would come out of it. It wasn't even a rivalry of different schools. It was the same school's teams! It was the soccer players versus the football players of the school.
At first, the reader doesn't think that the rivalry is all that bad. It starts out with some tamer things - egging cars, and some of the other standard pranks. My brother Christmas-trees his friends (it's a long story) so I got the boys-will-be-boys and harmless pranks part of it. But then the pranks started to be not-so-harmless. That's where Lissa decides that she should step in.
The girls are sick of the boys ditching them. Then afterwards, the boys come crawling back to them begging them for sex and such. Lissa's quarterback boyfriend Randy is completely ignoring her when he has something to do with his team. She doesn't even get the point of the rivalry. She thinks it's stupid. So when she learns about the boy who was in the hospital because of a prank that her boyfriend pulled, and he brushes it off as "not a big deal", she is determined to end the rivalry once and for all.
She gathers her closest girlfriends, her friends, her acquaintances, her enemies. At first the girls are skeptical about what she is proposing, but then they start to realize that it just might work. As they become more and more absorbed into what the sex strike might mean, they get deeper than they think until they don't know how far is too far.
Soon enough, the guys catch wind of what the girls are doing, and they decide to fight back. They try to seduce the girls and make at least one of them break their promise to abstain. They resort to trickery, and soon the battle of the sexes becomes just as intense as the rivalry. Could getting past one rivalry mean the beginning of the next? How far will Lissa go to ensure that it works? What happens when she starts to fall in love?
The plot was very well developed, but the best part of the book were the characters.
Lissa was such an endearing main character. To be honest, when I read The Duff, I didn't like Bianca as much. She felt fake and slightly contrived, and I thought that she was shallower than Lissa. Lissa is focused, sometimes a little too focused, and tries to make everything perfect. She is a perfectionist and she wants to prove to her boyfriend that the rivalry is wrong. Sometimes people try to say that Lissa and Bianca were the same, but the beauty of the characters lies in the subtleties. Of course they will be slightly similar, or more than slightly, because the author translates her beliefs into the characters. If you listen to authors talk about writing, many character's personalities come from people they know or from themselves. Many books are based off personal experience or experiences that inspired them. Lissa and Bianca were both fantastic, but very different for most of those who focus on more than the outward.
She's smart and thoughtful. She isn't as deep as many characters in YA, but many might point that to the focus of the book. Kody likes to talk about teenage drama and problems instead of wider issues, but while many might find that statement going in the wrong direction, I like that she's making it her own. She makes it unique.
The tough part about choosing to make a statement in a book is that it can get a bit repetitive. To my immediate shock and satisfaction, Kody didn't do this. I don't even think she meant to make such a strong statement! It may simply come across unconsciously when she was writing because she feels so passionate about it. It does make an issue of slut-shaming because that's something that almost every girl is guilty of.
This book talks about judging and how it creates rifts between girls and guys alike. It also deals with the harsh truth that it seems to always be the girl's fault. The guy is considered a player; girls almost seem to automatically forgive them. They assume that it's not something that the guy can control. They think it's always the girl's fault. This isn't true in all cases, but it seems to be an endless conundrum that we get ourselves into.
Anyways, I loved how the girls, when planning their next moves, had support sleepovers. It was cute, and screamed in a sort of girl-power way. This book was all about girl power! Last year, (although our situation was nothing like the girl's...I mean, we we are in middle school at a Christian school) the girls in the grade all bonded at this huge sleepover. It was like "Why do we not like each other? You're awesome" and we stayed up all night talking and catching up. I had flashbacks to that while reading this book and reading about Lissa and her friends patching up relationships. A common goal makes everything else fall into place.
The best part is that our grade is still friends. All the girls love each other, and although there may be some drama occasionally, we don't hold grudges like we used to. Another part of that may be the Owning Up program that I spoke of in my List review.
I love how Kody and Siobhan have written these kinds of books for teens because they're real issues that girls deal with. Some are the ones that we completely ignore but are stabbed in the back with every day. They're stereotypes and labels that we try our hardest to escape or change but never seem to. Both authors make strong arguments in their separate books, and I can see these books helping a lot of girls. Plus, they're just entertaining!
One of the funniest parts of this book was hearing about another character: Cash Sterling. To be honest, his name sounds like the type that would be in jokes about male strippers. Cash Sterling? It made me laugh every time I saw his name in the book. He was so charming, but not contrived. He sounded honestly genuine about everything he said or did, which is rare to find in characters like that. Everything that came out of his mouth seemed to either be the truth or what he believed to be the truth. He had this way of seeing past things, small things that irked other people, or lies that people told. He was a clear guy.
Lissa's friends added so much texture to the book. They all contributed in different ways, but it wasn't a forced diversity. There were different ends of the spectrum on sexuality. Some girls were proud to be virgins; others were ashamed of it. Some would go to a certain base; others would go all the way. They were honest with each other.
When I sat down to write this review, I thought it would be awkward to talk about a book like this, where the main plot revolves around sex. I've read books like Giving Up the V and ones where the girls are open about things like that, but I blush when thinking about my family and friends reading this review. Or even my teachers.
But even though I'm thirteen and adults don't expect me to be talking about these things (on the web no less), I have to be honest. I usually get uncomfortable when books talk about teens having sex. I don't believe in sex before marriage. I've been raised in a Christian community where that's never really happened before. Sure, we hear about people our age and some people we even know, but it's more of a taboo subject.
Adults tend to think that they're protecting us, but most of us (at least the people who I've been raised with) know right from wrong when they hear it. We can make our own conclusions about it, and it does help to live out several different lives with books like this. It helps us individually experience the emotional connections that the characters have to their actions, with the consequences, and it affects our decisions. This book explores all parts of that. Hooked showed us what it's like to be a teenage parent, Someone Like You showed us how to deal with being the friend of somebody who was pregnant. Lost It, Forever, Kiss It...all those talk about what it's like to have all that pressure and changes that change you forever. Through hearing about those, and imagining those characters to be us, we can form our own conclusions. I don't think that these books are too inappropriate. For younger kids, yes, but entering high schoolers and above? Older middle schoolers? We deserve to know what's out there in the world. These books educate us, but they don't corrupt us. They also serve as entertainment.
But in books it's different. If books are honest like these, it helps. It helps us with the questions that, even though in Health class they tell is that it's okay to have a question, we're too embarrassed to ask, Kody is blunt about it. She makes everything black and white, but knows when to make something a grey area. She is perfect and blending emotions so perfectly together that you don't know which is which anymore.
I loved that about this book. The emotions of these characters felt so realistic to me. Lissa could screw up sometimes and even make major mistakes, but she knows that she is wrong, and eventually, she'll try to fix it. When somebody's wrong, they don't necessarily want to admit it. This book definitely touches on that, and a lot of the outcome is dependent on Lissa's decisions.
Overall, I thought that Shut Out was the perfect balance of brutal honesty, entertainment, and emotions. Kody is a fantastic writer, and I look forward to hearing more from her. Her writing definitely connects with teens, and her strength is what makes her books stand out. With honest looks on labeling, slut-shaming, and sex, Shut Out is not one to miss. This one comes highly recommended from me.
Recommended for anybody who loves: The List; Hooked; Someone Like You; Giving Up the V; battles of the sexes; etc,.
Book club questions to come in a separate post.