The Plot: Evan Carter is at yet another school. He’s been to six schools since he was 13, traveling frequently because of his father’s job. At his latest boarding school he’s doing what he usually does. Not really making friends, because he know he won’t stay long. But you know what he does, and does well? Scoring with the ladies, planning temporary hookups.
Until the day that some of his classmates don’t like who he’s hooking up with and beat him up so badly he is hospitalized. And what they do to the girl is worse.
Broken and crushed in body and spirit, Evan’s father takes him to the family cabin in Minnesota.
Slowly, Evan begins to heal physically and emotionally.
The Good: Evan! Evan! Evan! I just adored this teenage boy, with his rough edges and his emotional pain, his physical scars, his inability to truly connect with anyone.
Evan, who so wants contact but he cannot articulate that need; so, instead of real relationships engages in numerous superficial physical relationships. Sex and Violence is about both Evan healing, but also about examining his own life. Not to say that it was his fault what happened, no; but to realize that how he was living his life wasn’t healthy to begin with, and to figure out what to change. And why. Part of it is his dead mother, emotionally unavailable father, and lack of any type of roots or community. Part of it is something else — and if you’ve read the book, I’d love to talk in the comments about it.
Part of the reason I loved the character of Evan is his attitude towards girls. “But girls are weird. I’m always amazed at the shit they put up with for a little attention.” It’s horrible, and he’s clearly a player. BUT. BUT. Sex and Violence is about someone who is a player but not quite a user; he isn’t about the seduction, in part because that will take too much time. He doesn’t want a girlfriend. He doesn’t want to invest in getting a girl to say “yes.” Instead, he’s about figuring out which girls will say yes. It’s shallow and it’s not nice, true, but there is a certain level of honesty in his selfishness. And, as Evan’s story unfolds, it turns out that he has reasons to look at sex as a valid way of connecting with people, as a short cut to intimacy. Evan himself looks back at this stage of his life with disgust: “Dirtbag Evan Carter, who lived for that whole game.”
Evan gets the crap beat out of him by a jealous ex. It’s brutal, and part of what I loved about Sex and Violence is that it doesn’t shy away from the impact of that violence on Evan. Sex and Violence takes place over a year: and that’s the reality of recovery. It’s not quick and simple. It’s not about snapping out of it. Sex and Violence has some of the best therapist/therapy scenes I’ve seen in a book, not because it fixes everything for Evan, but because it gives Evan the tools and language he needs to understand himself. It treats therapy not as a cure all, but as part of the process.
Evan’s problems are not his problems alone. His mother died when he was young, and his father is distant and unemotional at best. Evan’s recovery forces the two together and into a relationship, perhaps for the first time ever. So, then, part of Evan’s emotional make up at the start is in part because his only surviving parent models the same type of isolation that Evan lives. The family cabin — a small house by the lake — is not just a physical place where the two can safely retreat. It is also a part of a deep rooted community, and one that includes Evan and his father because it’s where Evan’s father grew up, even if it’s a place and people that is new to Evan. Evan is accepted into the group of teens and, perhaps for the first time, begins making friends.
I realize I am saying very little about the plot, after the first few brutal acts. That is mainly because — while none of it falls into twists and turns surprises — it is not just Evan’s journey to becoming a whole person, it is also the reader’s journey to understanding Evan and his father.
Evan is also funny. Not in a “here is a sentence I can show you” way, but in the way he observes and snarks and comments.
This is a Favorite Book for 2013 because I love Evan, and I love his journey. I love that he calls himself a dirtbag and then makes cupcakes for a little boy’s birthday. I love that he worries about the girl who was attacked. I love how he makes friends, and the people he makes friends with. I love that he decides to learn how to fight. I love the realistic portrayal of a victim of violence. I even grew to love his father.
And I feel weird saying “love” because Evan and the others in the book are so flawed and real. And that “love” may be mistaken for “like.” I don’t like what happened to Evan; I don’t like the place he is in at the start of the book; I don’t like the journey he has to go through. I want to reach into the pages and fix it for him and make it better. No, I don’t like the violence or how Evan treats women. But I love how real and true Evan is, and the things that happen to him, and the people around him.
My only quibble: the jacket copy/ description of the book includes the sentence “Until he hooks up with the wrong girl and finds himself in the wrong place at very much the wrong time.” In my never to be humble opinion, there is nothing “wrong” about the girl Evan hooks up with at school. Wrong place, wrong time, yes. She is someone’s ex, yes. But she is not “wrong.”