TOWELHEAD by Alicia Erian

TOWELHEAD

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KIRKUS REVIEW

A tedious, fairly moronic take on the pubescent hormone surge, told by a 13-year-old girl.

Jasira, prosaically named after Jasir Arafat by her now-divorced Lebanese father and Irish mother, can’t help attracting men, with her 34-inch “boobs,” so-called by her sexually jealous mother, who sends her to live with her “cheap and bossy” father. But it’s even worse in Houston, where Daddy works for NASA and lives in a housing complex with a pool she won’t use because of the abundant pubic hair she’s embarrassed about, and where Mr. Vuoso, the father of the neighbor boy she baby-sits, gives her a Playboy magazine (she practices masturbation) and comes on to her. Her own father, Rifat, being an old-style Arab, “doesn’t like bodies,” is horrified by Jasira’s incipient womanhood, and forbids her to use tampons or to befriend a black boy from school, Thomas, who genuinely wants to have sex with her. Added tension simmers between Mr. Vuoso, who’s a rabidly patriotic military reservist (“towelheads” is his epithet), and Rifat, who bitterly resents the American war machine aimed at the Arabs. The story consists largely of unedited and utterly uninteresting dialogue that goes on and on to demonstrate how Jasira, who seems to have no will of her own, thinks (slowly). Given the meanness around her—from her petty but envious mother; her irascible father, who’s prone to strike her; and the manipulative and insulting Mr. Vuoso, her seething crush across the street—she receives little guidance as a sexual creature. Not even the cool and pregnant neighbor Melina, who senses the crisis and gives Jasira the progressive primer Changing Bodies, Changing Lives, is able to protect Jasira from herself—that is, from the explosive sexuality that’s entangling her and everyone around her in a kind of gruesome physicality.

Storyteller Erian (The Brutal Language of Love, 2001) creates a hypnotic effect through her characters’ repetitive dumbness—in a first novel that’s annoying and memorable.

Pub Date: April 1st, 2005
ISBN: 0-7432-4494-X
Page count: 336pp
Publisher: Simon & Schuster
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 15th, 2005