When it comes to sex and books for teens, the envelope has been expanding for decades. It was only a matter of time before Cath’s grave examination of Ralph in Judy Blume's Forever… opened the door for actual oral sex. Boys have been happily getting blow jobs for the past several years.
Read Bookshelves of Doom's take on Susane Colasanti’s 'Keep Holding On.'
2005 was something of a banner year for fellatio. In Anyone but You, by Lara M. Zeises, protagonist Critter gets a blow job (in a book we summed up as "[e]ngaging but ultimately unsatisfying" for readers, if not for Critter). Paul Ruditis’ Rainbow Party is all about a monumental blow job that doesn't happen (but that didn't keep the book from dominating children's-literature discussions for a few weeks). Possibly the gold standard of blow-job scenes, Alaska's toothpaste-tube fellatio in John Green's Printz-winning Looking for Alaska is both hilarious and sexy and leads to the real thing for narrator Pudge.
So while blow jobs are not exactly a dime a dozen, they have become pretty mainstream. (Not that everybody is happy about that, but that's another story.) Boy-to-girl oral sex, on the other hand, is something else entirely.
Disclaimer: I do not have comprehensive familiarity with every book for teens with oral sex in it, but as a pretty aware reader, I had noticed the absence even as girl-to-boy oral sex flourished. With a little help from Bookshelves of Doom, a totally unscientific survey of teen mavens came up null in the cunnilingus department, too.
Which was why I did a double take when I read The Cadillac Chronicles, by Brett Hartman. This cross-racial, cross-generational, road-trip buddy story brings together Alex, a white teenager, and Lester, an old black man, for an American odyssey that proves revelatory many times over for Alex. A typical 16-year-old straight male virgin, Alex is a connoisseur of cleavage, particularly of the Rubenesque variety. While his eagle eye for big breasts (and the resultant physiological sensations he experiences) should endear him to his fellow teens, it left this middle-aged feminist reader unmoved. More male wish-fulfillment lit, I thought.
But then Alex meets Selma in the rural-Alabama home of Lester's sister, Earlene. Named for Dr. King's March, Selma, 19 or 20, helps Earlene out with cooking, cleaning and light nursing. One unforgettable day she masterfully deflowers him in a scene that our review asserts "will surprise readers as much as Alex." While leaving little to the imagination, it is sweet, not sordid, and Selma is in charge all the way.
From telling him to make sure he's got his condom "on good" to telling him where to go, the frankly sexual Selma is no passive fulfillment of male desire: She knows what she wants, and she will get it. When Alex finishes up before she does, she takes command again—"Want to do something a little different?"—pointing to where she'd like his attention next. And Alex is absolutely ready to comply: "His new mission in life was to give her the same kind of pleasure he had just received."
So how amazing is that? Cadillac Chronicles is most definitely a boy book, and Hartman knows how boys think. But when he gives Alex possibly one of the most rewarding sex scenes in recent teen literature, he abjures the blow job and instead emphasizes the importance of pleasuring the female partner. It's a whole new frontier, baby, and I love the fact that it's a book for boys leading the way.
It didn't surprise me much to see that Cadillac Chronicles is published by Cinco Puntos, not one of the Big Six or otherwise more mainstream publishers. Operating out of El Paso, Cinco Puntos has historically been unafraid to walk on the edge, leveraging their low-overhead margins to promote the literature of the disenfranchised. Not too long ago, they pushed the envelope in a different direction with Little Zizi, by Thierry Lenain and Stéphane Poulin, a Canadian picture book about a boy mocked for his small penis. Harmonically closing the circle with Cadillac Chronicles, Cinco Puntos and Brett Hartman have gone where many men have gone before—just not in teen books.
Vicky Smith is the children's and teen editor at Kirkus.