Newman, Leslea. Jailbait. Delacorte, 2006. ISBN 978-0385734059 256 pp. $17.95
In her desperate need to matter to someone, a naive loner is sucked into an inappropriate relationship with a strange older man who abuses her sexually and verbally. Andi, a stereotypical overweight and unpopular tenth grader, nurtures a relationship with a moody adult stranger who offers her a ride home one day. As their relationship progresses, Frank manipulates her into posing for cheesecake photos, losing her virginity and performing sexual acts on him.
This squirm-inducing tale is not sexy or gratuitous, but the content is certainly provocative. Middle class-suburbia offers no protection from pedophiles; the book drives home the reality that an estimated one in three girls are sexually abused before the age of 16. The tragic events of the story are a good jumping off point for a discussion about respect and self-esteem.
Set purposefully in 1971, slang, music and cultural details do flesh out the story, but it’s unclear why the author chose this particular time for the setting of the story. The clever cover of a teen’s face with a censor mark across the eyes indicate the mature content, the “it-could-happen-to any-girl” possibility, and the utter blindness of a young women who mistakes attention for love.