Davis, Jenny. Sex Education. Orchard, 1988. ISBN 978-0531057568 150 pp. $
From an insane asylum that she thinks is the sanest place in the world to be, 16 year-old Livvie is writing an account of the reason she is in the asylum to her therapist: the story of what happened to her a year ago. Livvie is the new girl in town when she meets David in her biology class. The topic of the semester is sex education, part of the teacher’s effort to prevent more teen pregnancies, but also to help young people make more informed and hopefully safer decisions. Through a variety of assignments, she teaches her students not only the facts and statistics about disease and pregnancy prevention, but also how to care for someone in a non-sexual way, and how to express themselves. Her basic message, which I found to be a realistic on in this day and age — not too liberal, not too conservative — is “wait as long as you can.”
The main project of the semester is “to care about another person.” David and Livvie choose to work together, befriending the pregnant young wife of Livvie’s new neighbor, a frail and timid woman who seems to desperately need someone to care about her. Her often absent husband is gruff and threatening and his over-protective attitude toward his wife seems to hint at a deeper problem. Despite his threatening looks, Livvie and David continue their mission to care for the woman, never realizing what they are getting involved in until it is too late.
The best part about this book is Davis’ writing. We experience everything through Livvie’s naive and innocent eyes, especially the growing affection between her and David and the joys of first love. We also become increasingly aware of the problems in the marriage of the new neighbors. In her retelling, Livvie never seems to get ahead of herself or assume the worst, so when we discover the reason for Livvie’s being in an insane asylum, the reader feels the same shock, grief, and helplessness Livvie feels. The deep empathy with Livvie shows strong characterization, and the plot is much more complex than one would guess from the title.
This is a book that made me smile with fond memories of my own first love, and cry over the unfairness of it. Well deserving of its Best Book citation, Sex Education is a must have for any young adult library collection.