Not Like You by Deborah DavisI recently read – um, devoured – Deborah Davis’ new book, Not Like You.

What really struck me about Davis’ book was her portrayal of adolescent sexuality. (Let’s not all act too surprised at what I focused on, shall we?) Kayla, the protagonist, is a 15 year-old girl when the book begins. We are introduced to her in the bed of a pick-up truck, naked, with a boy named Hal:

“Right on schedule, the train whistle blew, Hal’s signal to roll on top of me. The train that crossed the trestle at 10:34 took about two and a half minutes to pass. Hal’s challenge was to start and finish within that amount of time.

Overhead, the train thundered past, and Hal squeezed his eyes shut. Closing my own, I tried to block out the grunting boy on top of me by imagining my favorite dog: black and white with a feathery tail.

<snip>

The last train cars rumbled by, and the dog vanished. Hal groaned, slumped against me, and quickly rolled away. In the dim light his face gleamed. ‘I made it,’ he panted. ‘A perfect night.’ “

Hal does not feature largely in Kayla’s story, but he leaves a permanent impression on Kayla of how boys will interact with her body, when given the chance. While having sex at the speed of a train may not be on the standard adolescent sex menu, the essence of the way Hal treats Kayla is standard. And so is Kayla’s reaction – she seems to have a dim understanding that this is not the kind of sexual interaction that she wants. But she is unable to stand up for something better, and anyway, believes that the sex will bring good things – like an invitation to Hal’s upcoming party. Unsurprisingly, it does not.

Later in the book, Kayla finds another young man – older than she is – and discovers that men can be sexually kind and gentle. Remy treats Kayla kindly, especially when compared to Hal. But he, too, in the end shows himself to be essentially self-centered and interested only in his own pleasures.

This book tells two cautionary tales to young women: Beware the cad (Hal), who is nothing more than a cad. But also beware the cad (Remy) who believes himself to be so much better than a cad.

There is an open question at the end of this book as to whether there are good, caring adolescent boys out there. This is the book’s one downfall – it does not present an image of good teenage boys. (Some of whom I know, and I feel absolutely certain that even more exist!)

Nevertheless, I like the book overall. It is an easy, engaging read. Davis has a good sense for real teenagers, the real people who hide beneath adolescent trappings in most portrayals of teenagers. A good additional perk is that Kayla’s sexual development brings up some very interesting questions about sexuality, and a novel format is a great way for young teenagers to grapple with these kinds of issues.