Jailbait (2005)

Leslea Newman
Delacorte Books

Another book bought for the cover that turns out to be something else entirely.  What looks like a Fassbinder-like crime pulp is actually a story for teenage girls about self-esteem and sexual abuse.  15-year-old protagonist Andi Kaplan hates herself and high school in 1971 Long Island.  Soon an older guy in a car is honking at her each day as she walks to school.  Frank, who is 30, eventually gets her to accept a ride, and soon the two are involved in an increasingly intimate relationship.  They have awkward and (for Andi) disappointing sex on her 16th birthday, leading to a fight, a reconciliation, and then plans to run-away together to another town.  But Frank takes a powder and is never seen again.  Author Newman has made a name for herself by writing books meant to challenge school-boards and make red-state librarians nervous, her most famous title being Heather Has Two Mommies (1989)--a particularly flammable piece of kindling in the early 1990s culture wars.  Jailbait is, somewhat surprisingly, rather matter-of-fact and even banal in its account of statutory rape, an attempt on Newman's part, I suppose, to make the topic less incindiary. Frank doesn't get caught and Andi doesn't get pregnant and/or destroyed by the experience.  The book is so blas√© about its topic, in fact, that it is difficult to know what teenagers who hate themselves and high school are supposed to take away in the end.

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