Sunday, December 18, 2011

Shut Out by Kody Keplinger

Publisher: Poppy (Little, Brown)

Pages: 273

Series or Stand Alone: Stand Alone

Summary: Most high school sports teams have rivalries with other schools. At Hamilton High, it's a civil war: the football team versus the soccer team. And for her part,Lissa is sick of it. Her quarterback boyfriend, Randy, is always ditching her to go pick a fight with the soccer team or to prank their locker room. And on three separate occasions Randy's car has been egged while he and Lissa were inside, making out. She is done competing with a bunch of sweaty boys for her own boyfriend's attention.
Lissa decides to end the rivalry once and for all: She and the other players' girlfriends go on a hookup strike. The boys won't get any action from them until the football and soccer teams make peace. What they don't count on is a new sort of rivalry: an impossible girls-against-boys showdown that hinges on who will cave to their libidos first. And Lissa never sees her own sexual tension with the leader of the boys, Cash Sterling, coming.

Shut Out is Kody Keplinger's young adult modern-day retelling of the Aristophanes play, Lysistrata. I was happy to see a modern day retelling that had absolutely nothing to do with Jane Austen, Shakespeare, or one of the Bronte sisters. I find the number of existing Pride and Prejudice retellings frankly revolting. I had never heard of Lysistrata before reading this book, which made me even happier. That meant that I couldn't have read retellings of it before. Also, I've wanted to read Keplinger's The Duff for a little while but hadn't gotten to it. I figured I should just take the opportunity to read her sophomore novel while it was there. Good news! After reading Shut Out I still want to read The Duff.
Going in the same direction as Lysistrata, Shut Out opens with a "war" (well--technically it opens with Lissa being left behind in a slightly compromising position while her boyfriend goes off in vengeance after a soccer player egged his car) between the football team and the soccer team at Lissa's high school. The football team was pissed off years ago because the addition of a soccer team meant that they had to split funding, sparking a rivalry between the two that resulted in a prank war. The girlfriends of various athletes in the school are tired of being ignored in favor of this prank war. Lissa comes up with the idea of a sex strike--the girls will hold whatever degree of sexual activity they usually partake in over the heads of their boyfriends/hookups in an attempt to halt the football/soccer rivalry. Through the sleepovers and meetings intended to keep the girls strong in their quest, they develop friendships in which they can openly discuss their concerns about sex and love. Lissa learns a few things through these new friendships and the sex strike--including some of the less than pleasant traits of her boyfriend, Randy, and how deep her feelings go for Cash Sterling, a one-that-could-have-been sort of love interest.
This book certainly ran deeper than I thought it was going to. Keplinger managed to create a story that conveys a deep message without beating you over the head with the preachystick. Through the very real discussions the girls have about their sex lives or lack thereof, Keplinger throws out the idea that there is no "normal" when it comes to sex and relationships. There is no standard that girls (and boys) should adhere to. One of the girls wasn't ready to have sex. Lissa's best friend Chloe had sex with some of her friends, but didn't want to be in a relationship. The important thing was that they were involved in whatever they were comfortable in--and not what someone else was comfortable with them doing. I'm going to reiterate the fact that Keplinger adeptly expressed this without beating everyone over the head with it. If there's anything I hate more than preaching not-so-cleverly disguised by entertainment (the entire second season of Glee, I'm looking at you. Hate on me, I don't even care.) I don't know what it is.
I found that the development of Cash and Lissa's attraction and ensuing friendship/eventual relationship to be believable and entertaining. Many times I'm disappointed by the development of a romantic relationship, but Keplinger managed to create a very real situation. After Lissa and Randy broke up the first time, she and Cash spent a party together, talking and eventually kissing. He asked for her number but never called, assuming that she wouldn't want to hear from him. She assumed that he didn't care about her at all, and they created a giant misunderstanding for themselves, as is the entirety of life. Communication, people. Come on now. After Lissa and Randy get back together, Cash's very presence annoys Lissa. They manage to become friends again while working at the library and eventually "enemies" as the heads of the girls' side and the boys' side in the strike. Through lack of communication (again), they each assume that the other is only "interested" in them for the sake of winning the strike, causing Lissa to become manipulative and Cash to become angry. The lack of communication rings entirely true to life, so much that in my head I was telling Lissa to just TALK TO HIM in my head, much like I do with my real people friends. At least with fictional characters it's not as frustrating when they entirely ignore the subtle advice, as they cannot actually hear me being all sage in my own head.
Two small things that I liked: I liked that a copy of Lysistrata made its way into the story of Shut Out. I feel like retellings don't usually shove their source material directly inside the story, so it was cool that Keplinger thrust a copy of Lysistrata right in the pages of Shut Out. Cash Sterling, the true love interest in the tale, gives Lissa a copy after he hears about what she has planned for the school. The other tiny thing I liked is that Lissa and Cash worked after school jobs at a public library. I feel like not enough characters work in libraries, it's always coffee shops and restaurants. This has absolutely nothing to do with the fact that I've worked in a library for several years...
Kody Keplinger created a thoroughly entertaining modern retelling of Lysistrata with the novel Shut Out. The characters were both likable and relatable (except for Randy, who was NOT likable because he was an jackhole, but he was supposed to be that way) and conveyed a message through their very teenage conversations rather than through preachy speeches (or songs--wait, that's just Glee. Sorry, couldn't resist.) Recommended, and I'm definitely going to be reading Keplinger's first novel, The Duff, and whatever else she writes in the future.

Rating: 4 - good.

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