Tuesday, May 23, 2006

Sex Kittens And Horn Dawgs Fall In Love

Sex Kittens And Horn Dawgs Fall In Love by Maryrose Wood

The Plot: Felicia, 14, has a crush on Matthew. He's all she can think about; all of her poems are about him, she has found out everything about him (he likes science and is raising rabbits for a project), she can barely speak when he's around. She doesn't know what to do about it; he clearly doesn't feel the same way she does. Felicia decides on honesty, and tells him how she feels.

The Good: Felicia, 14, along with friends Kat and Jess, are freshmen at the Manhattan Free Children's School, a small private school where the Free Children "are supposed to pass the time by digging deeply into our passions, creating our own learning plans, being self-directed and self-motivated and self-self-self." (I have no idea what Real Life school MFCS is based on. But it sounds like a cool place to go.)

It's set in Manhattan, and I love books set in NYC. The school is by Gramercy Park. While the school is private, this is not a snooty, rich kid school. No labels are mentioned; while Felicia's dad is living in the burbs in a McMansion, Felicia and her mother live in a one bedroom apartment. Her friends are from a variety of backgrounds.

In many ways, this is the anti-Gossip Girl book; yes, it's a private Manhattan school, but these kids don't obsess about labels and clubbing and popularity. These 14-year-olds act and think and talk like real 14-year-olds. It's a true middle school book, with no sex or drugs, and when the girls think about their crushes the farthest they think is a kiss. The kids eat; no bulimia or anorexia here.

The girls are also silly -- silly in a way that is so typical of young teens. Take the title; it's because the girls, at the start of the school year, were hanging out in Felicia's mother's store and saw a Tarot card pack made up of kittens. After oohing and shrieking at the cuteness, the girls decided that they were kittens. Why the sex kittens? Because the cutest picture is of kittens in a high heel shoe: the sex kittens, and "the card said something about the life force and connection and rebirth". It makes perfect 14-year-old sense. And if they are kittens, boys have to be Horn Dawgs. They use these terms innocently.

My favorite part of this book is the honesty. Felicia tells Matthew how she feels; and together, they decide to explore the "x factor of love" as a science project. Why does a person fall for another? Why is the feeling sometimes reciprocated and sometimes not? It's an exploration of love; and for middle school girls, it's a nice look at emotions and acting on emotions with respect. There is no game playing or nastiness. Even Felicia's and Matthew's "experiments" are low key and honest; Felicia muses about opposites attracting and wonders whether, if she dresses differently, she'll attract Matthew's "x" factor. And here is part of the antiGG: Felicia's "dressing up" is switching from jeans to a skirt.

This book, title aside, is perfect for the middle school crowd; it's a great school book about friendships and crushes, with no mean girls or game playing or label worshiping.

YA and kids books usually involve poets and writers (like Felicia), followed by artists and musicians (like her friend Kat), so finding books that have science as a passion is cool.

As for the title. Kittens is part of one of the more recent book banning efforts. This is a great book for high school and also for middle school. IMHO, the only reason this book is on that list is the title. Seriously, this is one of the "cleanest" books I've read in a while. The title, and the girls calling themselves the "sex kittens", is the edgiest thing about the book and done by them in innocence. They've named themselves for a cute picture of kittens; all these girls want is for the boys the like to notice them; to hold hands; to have coffee; and to kiss. This is an age when girls think about those things; and how nice for a book to address this in a way that isn't "too much information" and doesn't talk down to kids and doesn't get preachy. Heck, the Common Sense Media review ("your trusted source for family friendly reviews") gave this 4 out of 5 stars, saying "terrible title masks terrific book for teens! Totally age-appropriate."

The title does make sense when the book is read; and as I said, it's innocent. This is a perfect book for young teenage girls and they will love it. I hate the idea of giving in to book banners; but the title may be a barrier and part of me wonders whether the title could be changed for the paperback edition.

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