Warning: The following book & review involve sensitive subjects.
Score: 86/100 (8.6 out of 10)
Well, this is a very difficult book to review. No, it's not difficult to read because of the quality of the writing. The quality of the writing is quite good. No, it's not difficult to read because it's boring. It actually maintains a level of interest and intrigue. The thing that makes this book so difficult to read and review is its subject matter and the way in which it's handled.
This is a book about two minors—a boy named Todd and a girl named Sally—who were exploited by adults in the 1960s and so struggled to have normal lives afterward. This is a book about ephebophilia. There's no hopscotching around it. It is very disturbing and uncomfortable to read practically from beginning to end. Now, this isn't entirely unprecedented even in our own writing contests. For example, if we recall correctly, a story by Elizabeth Reinach last cycle discussed incest between a grandson and grandmother over an inheritance. That did not score well with us, in fact the book in which this story took place did not rank for that and other reasons.
Now, to say that this and similar topics cannot be discussed in literature at all wouldn't be entirely fair. The best example to the contrary, of course, would be “Lolita” by Vladimir Nabokov.
Beside the main characters, Todd and Sally, you also follow two exploitative, predatory middle-aged women named Miss Lady and Mrs. V, both of whom come across to us as rather despicable in their wants and actions, but one who seems to be somewhat redeemable (if that were even possible) and the other who is simply evil to the core. They are effectively foils of one another. Miss Lady lusts after Todd, who is at the tail end of his high school days, and begins a summer fling with him in which multiple people mistake Todd for her son and Miss Lady is tortured by her thoughts and guilt over what she is doing. The guilt that Miss Lady feels and her eventual decision to respect Todd's freedom to go and pursue relationships with girls his own age somewhat soften our feelings toward her, especially when compared to Mrs. V.
Think about the character of “T-Bag” (Theodore Bagwell) from Prison Break and how there are times we actually do think he could redeem himself despite the irredeemable and unforgivable acts he committed before and during the series. For example, there are two instances in which he chooses to do the right thing and release a family he has kidnapped despite it possibly getting him into trouble (either arrest or capture by the Company). Eventually, he profoundly regrets the mistakes of his former life and wants to create a new one under a new identity, Cole Pfeiffer. Still, it doesn't erase the evils of the past, and it doesn't bring the dead back to life or repair the physical and emotional damage he caused to victims and their loved ones.
Similar things can be said about Miss Lady who, despite not being a murderer per se, does irreversibly damage a boy's life. Let's not beat around the bush, the things that Miss Lady does are inexcusable and, quite frankly, disgusting. Some of the things Miss Lady and Todd do together are described in disgusting detail, and frighteningly there's even an edge of glamour to it. It's almost as if the author wants us to be excited for the two of them, but we just won't have it. Wrong is wrong is wrong.
Then, there's the person we'd label as the main villain of the book: Mrs. V (Valery Valverty), Sally's cheerleading coach and pimp. Remember how we said the Wally Mussel from “My Famous Brain” by Diana Wald was pretty much Satan incarnate for the way that he exploits women and destroys peoples' lives for his own amusement? Well, if Wally Mussel is Satan incarnate, then Mrs. V is the living embodiment of the queen of hell. She is absolutely, positively despicable in every way you can possibly imagine. Whenever you think she starts showing “concern” for Sally's health and well-being, it is only because Sally and the other girls (like Brenda) are merchandise to her. She doesn't want damaged goods. She could care less about Sally as a girl or as a human being. To her, she's as usable and expendable as a toothpick. She wants to clean her dirt out with her, break her in half, and discard her so she can find another pick in the pack. Mrs. V quite literally pimps Sally and her cheerleading teammates (like Branda) out to every guy wealthy or powerful enough, and she controls them through fear, threats, lies, and money. This is pimping, extortion, exploitation, and endangerment to the highest degree. What's extra uncomfortable about this whole thing is that not only does Mrs. V start using the term “adventures” to describe these exploits, but the other characters and the author start using this term as well.
Mrs. V preys on Sally's desire to be a capable woman and to be desirable to men. She constantly threatens her position on the team or the school in addition to withholding money. She even tries to convince Sally to kill her unborn baby against her will under threat of telling her grandma about her sexuality and pregnancy. It's disgusting. We know we've used that word several times already but there's no better word for it, it's disgusting. Absolutely disgusting. Absolutely reprehensible.
And the book lingers on these things. One time wasn't enough. We have to read about statutory rape multiple times upon multiple times. It's too much. Once is too much. A seeming dozen times is toss-this-book-against-a-wall worthy.
The thing we considered was: are these events a retelling of actual real-life events with the names changed? That's the only way this book kind of made sense. The reason we say this is because this book is very detailed and sometimes repetitive. Real life is repetitive. You wake up and usually perform the same activities every day. It's also written chronologically and is very specific. For example, we find out what happened to almost all of the major characters by the end of the book, and these things are oddly specific at times. It's almost as if the author knew these people or someone very similar to them.
Oh, and by the way, the Vietnam War happens and one of our main characters, Todd, ends up in it. Not only does he end up in it, but he becomes a POW. He also commits assault, so there's a courtroom drama section in here too. Also, Todd is a cowboy, so he does cowboys things including compete in wrangling events. We bet you didn't see all that coming.
See, that's why we wonder if this actually happened, and if it actually happened, Todd, Sally, and their kids need serious help. What's more is that Mrs. V, if she's still alive and out there, needs to be held accountable for her crimes. Should we call someone? Seriously?!
Is that the point of the book or something? Is it that when we see or hear about children being exploited, we should report it or do something about it? If so, then why is the relationship between Miss Lady and Todd so glamorized? Why are we supposed to feel bad for her at the end of the book? Like “Lolita” this is a beautifully written book about a disgustingly ugly subject. It would have to score between 75 (barely reviewable) to 88 (a fairly average to good book). We're going to go ahead and score it an 86 because of the effort that obviously went into creating this and also the quality of the writing. However, we absolutely don't condone the actions of most of these characters. This is not the feel-good romance that the title “A Hundred Honeymoons” implies. This is more like if Forrest Gump were written and directed by Quentin Tarantino and Michael Bay, but they ran out of a budget for Bay's explosions so he just chimed in on his ideas on how human characters should be portrayed as Tarantino did his thing and made it as screwed up as possible.
If anything, this is a book you show your 16 to 19-year-old on how not to live a life like this by not forsaking your values and preserving your human dignity.
If you'd like to give it a read, it's on Amazon.