One of our postergirlz recommended reads for August is The Secret Year by Jennifer R. Hubbard. After reading Holly Cupala's statement about World Vision and connectivity, Jennifer had this to say:
About her book (featured on readergirlz this month) and its outreach connection to World Vision’s Hope for Sexually Exploited Girls, Holly Cupala says, "Even though TELL ME A SECRET is not about sexual exploitation, it is about women and secrets and dealing with shame, so I felt there was a connection there.”
The connection between sex and secrecy and shame is especially powerful for girls, but it is everywhere in our society. Sex is about vulnerability and about emotional and physical risk. We build cultural and religious rules and expectations around it. We approach it with contradictions that could make anyone’s head spin: we set up taboos at the same time we use it to sell everything from soap to liquor. We sell cosmetics for “kissable lips” and then warn about where kissing might lead. We bury sex in a mound of whispers and jokes, slang and euphemisms.
I think most writers who include sexually active characters in their YA books want to lift that veil of secrecy and shame a little, to confront some basic truths of human nature and cut through the myths and mysteries. I know that was one of my goals in THE SECRET YEAR, which, like Holly Cupala’s book, has a plot that revolves around secrecy. In my own schooldays, adults did a fair job of giving me biological information and telling me about my right to say no, of warning me about pregnancy and STDs. But the gaping void in my education revolved around the emotional consequences of physical intimacy. What do we gain, and what do we give, when we enter into such a relationship? What are the emotional risks? What does sex do to our own concept of self-worth, and to our interactions with others?
In THE SECRET YEAR, the characters Colt and Julia believe at first that they can have a physical relationship with no strings attached. At one point, however, Colt concludes: “I should’ve known there are always strings. They’d slipped around my wrists and knotted up before I’d even noticed.” In fact, for these characters, secrecy itself is as potent a force as sex; they find any and every excuse to maintain the walls of secrecy that surround them. The biggest threat to their relationship is always openness, a full and honest commitment. And can any relationship survive behind walls?
Eventually, Colt and Julia run out of ways to hide; they have to face the limits of their secret world. Neither of them is immune to the laws of cause and effect. Their relationship changes them in ways they never expected or intended.
- Jennifer R. Hubbard