Burgess, Melvin. Doing It. Henry Holt & Company, 2006. ISBN 978-0805080797 336 pp. $8.99
This book proves true the urban legend that men really do think about sex once every six seconds–and teenage boys, twice as frequently. In Doing It, three 17-year old male hormonal time bombs fantasize, expresses their fears, and attempt to get lucky. Along the way, they fall into real relationships: Ben with his drama teacher, Dino with the popular beautiful girl he’s chased for years, and Jonathan with a sweet but overweight girl.
The cover alone is provocative enough to make one local library send it back, unread and unreviewed. It took me a second glance to confirm that yes, the characters are wearing clothes (a standing boy with his back to us holds his girlfriend in his arms, her legs wrapped around his waist). The back cover shows the same couple (no pun intended!) from the opposite view, the cartoonish image cleverly hinting at the multiple points of view within.
Although Doing It made this reviewer swallow and blush several times, in truth it is about as sexy as a how-to manual and more crude talk than hot action. However–I confess to recalling the days when even a textbook or dictionary definition was titillating. I am sure there are those out there who will accuse Burgess of writing pornography for teens, however, this novel, with its horrifically embarrassing toe-curling details, is accurate. Teens are sexual creatures. They have questions. They have desires. And they talk about them, agonize over them, and sometimes act on them, all healthy, normal and vital developmental steps towards adulthood (speaking of which, the adults in the book have their own sexual issues: Dino catches his mom having an affair; Miss Young, shagging students, obviously has some baggage; and Jackie’s parents allow her to stay overnight with her boyfriend eight years her senior).
Blunt books like Burgess’s are few and far between, and it is brave of him to tell this tale of lust and the pursuit of punanni. Doing It provides a few laughs, answers questions along the way, is well-written, if not sensitively written, and most of all, assures boys AND girls that having sexual feelings is okay. Still, purchasers should be prepared to defend the presence of this book in library collections–the key phrase here is “meets the developmental needs of teens.”