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Young Adult Literature Reviews
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"Secrets are dangerous. They turn on you. You think it's all nice and snug, just you-and-me, our private place-and then suddenly you can't get out"
What's Love Got To Do With It? Melvin Burgess.
. New York: Henry Holt and Company, 2004.
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is a shockingly honest and hilarious insight into the intimate relationships, emotions and the inner thoughts of teenagers today. Three friends Dino, Jonathan and Ben (as well as Mr. Knobby Knobster) tell their unedited stories of sexual experiences, adult affairs and heartbreak while trying to maintain their integrity and sense of manhood.
"Ok," said Jonathan. "The choice is this. You either have to shag Jenny Gibson- or else that homeless woman who begs spare change outside Cramner's Bakers."
Dino and Ben recoiled in disgust. Jenny was known as the ugliest girl in the school but the beggar woman was filthy. Her teeth!
"I'd take the homeless," said Ben, after a moment's thought. "She wouldn't be so bad once you'd cleaned her up." (Burgess, 1).
Everybody is doing it, or at least everyone thinks everyone is doing it. Regardless, no teenage boy wants to be the only one who isn’t doing it. Dino adored Jackie, but Jackie adored her college boyfriend whom she’d been shagging for years. Maybe he’ll just shag Zoe instead. Jonathan has been messing around with Deb, but “if you melted Deb down and poured her into a fat-powered vehicle, you could drive to London and back without a refill. Some said it wasn’t her fault….(Burgess, 142) And then there’s Ben. He’s been having an affair with his teacher Miss Ali since she showed him her panties during the 9th grade production of West Side Story. Sex… what’s the big deal with sex anyway?
is an exclusive inside look at what is going on in the lives, minds, souls, and hearts of teenagers. It is an exploration of love, sex, affair, scandal, and a path to self-discovery. In this book, Burgess examines the emotion that is unequivocally fastened to the physical activity of these teenagers not usually portrayed in media today. He shows the fear, hurt, sadness, terror, elation, joy, and love that are all wrapped up and experienced in a single moment.
Burgess explores the effects that the choices these students make have on them and their lives. Jackie, Dino's girlfriend, gives her heart to Dino, allowing herself to love and be connected to him. She does this even knowing that she was “going to get hurt” and that “she already was” (Burgess, 51). Ben feels trapped while having an affair with his teacher leaving him wondering “Do you think people spend their whole lives pretending to be in love with someone just because it’s good manners?” (Burgess,249)
After further investigating the ideas of love in their own little worlds, the characters began to realize that everyone dealt with these problems, even parents. Dino comes to the revelation that his parents “weren't just parents. They were friends and lovers, betrayers and cheaters and fallers-in-love” (Burgess, 42). Ben later comes to the realization that not everyone who stays married stays in love, and he questions the states in which people live. This book not only shows the changes in the way these students modified their ideas about love and the people they loved, but it also reveals the way in which they adapt their thoughts of the world as a whole. Ben becomes a bit cynical about life sighing that, “maybe that's life – just letting stuff happen, and keeping your eye out for a chance to dodge the next batch of shit coming your way” (Burgess, 293).
These views and judgments made about the world and the people in them allow the students to look inside to their inner motivations for the things that they do. Jonathan wrestles with the reasons behind his treatment of others admitting that he was, “only ever nice to people because I want them to be nice to me” (Burgess, 150). This revelation uncovers the root of his deepest fear. “I live in constant fear that someone is going to be as horrible to me as I am to them” (Burgess, 142). Through the discovery of self, others, and the world the students in this novel begin to decide for themselves what their own ideas of love are, how they will live their lives in pursuit or avoidance of that love, and if love is true and could really be worth it or not.
Recommendations for Teachers
"I was right. He really is a nice guy-and he adores me. Maybe I could actually go out with this one, who knows?" (Burgess, 203). What girl hasn't thought this?
"It wouldn't last, though. Once she got to know me she'd go off me dead quick. I mean, I'm pretty weird, really. I'm only ever nice to people because I want them to be nice to me" (Burgess, 150). How many boys crave approval like this?
Everyone goes through adolescence, but what is interesting is that many adults forget what that stage was like once they have escaped. Adolescence is a time that is so easily and, oftentimes, willingly forgotten as long as there are no scars to remind them of the time. In fact, it is extremely difficult for many adults to recall any sort of recollection of that period at all. Due to the fact that teachers interact with young people on a day to day basis and often need to build a relationship with these students, remembering that stage in their lives is essential.
, a Young Adult Book, is a portrayal of the male and female adolescent mind; a tunnel into the psyche of the young, horny boy and the confusing, hormonal girl.
Denying that teenagers think about sex would be like denying that the world turns. Once a boy recognizes that the little treasure in his pants can be used in other places outside of the bathroom, it seems as if that becomes a vital part of his identity. This aspect of boyhood is brilliantly illustrated by Burgess’ character, Jonathon and his little friend Mr. Knobby. This Mr. Knobby is the conscience in Jonathon’s mind, even though he speaks from inside Jonathon’s pants, which offers a picture of what happens during a boy’s thought process (Burgess, 147-156).
Boys are certainly not alone when it comes to struggling with hormones and sexual desires. Burgess offers a look into the mind of the young female; although different from the boy, is still a labyrinth on its own. Jackie, a predominant female character illustrates female insecurities, battles with body image, and desperation for social and self approval. Through her relationship with Dino, she shows how girls move from worrying about pleasing others (will she have sex with Dino even though she might not want to?) to worrying about making themselves happy (she holds fast to her personal feelings and intuitions).
Teachers are not teenagers anymore. Certainly, the stage of insecurities and the concentration on SEX SEX SEX are no longer top-priority-thoughts. However, for a teacher to understand the minds of their students, to eliminate this alienating distance between teachers and students, there must be a basic understanding of how these young adults tick.
is a book that, although extremely graphic and sometimes uncomfortable, does an excellent job of being brutally honest about the mind of a teenager. This book allows the reader to become the minds of these adolescent characters. Teachers, if they want to be more empathetic toward their students, if they want to reach out to them, create relationships with them, to be there as confidants, mentors, and friends, then reading this book would be an amazing addition to their personal library.
As for making a spot for
in a classroom's curriculum, be forewarned. The subject matter of this book is extremely explicit; however, its rough and tough language could be beneficial for some students. As far as private and public institutions go, this book might not be such a safe idea. In order to appeal to the parents, faculty, and community involved with the school,
is just one of many books that speak out about tough topics; there are, of course, other books that can be taught that give a voice to tough teen issues in a less offensive manner; although, as far as alternative education goes,
could help a classroom if included in a lesson plan. It is no secret that with the advancement and availability of technological entertainment these days, young people are veering away from reading and moving towards other forms of personal entertainment.
is a book that has the potential to pique the interests of disinterested teens to the point of potentially spreading the enjoyment of reading again. Teens are often drawn to explicit content that they can relate to;
is that kind of literature.
Although this book is recommended for teachers to read as to better understand their students and possibly for alternative schooling classrooms, know that this book is of an extremely explicit nature and would be highly controversial for a classroom atmosphere. Other books may be more sensitive for the classroom but are still able to discuss such topics of growing up during such a pivotal physical and emotional transformation for young adults.
About Melvin Burgess
Controversial British writer, Melvin Burgess was known as a day dreamy, shy kid with an atypical eye for writing, lacking regard for his teachers’ intent. Now after writing over 20 novels and winner of the Carnegie Metal for Junk, he’s better known as the “Godfather” of young adult fiction and “the Dickens of the future”.
Burgess had only a short period of professional writing education through a journalism course, but that was enough to inspire him to pursue a career in the field. He wrote on and off until he was 35 and finally decided it was the time to write what he wanted and what he truly felt. Soon after, his first book was finish and published in 1991,
The Cry of the Wolf
In addition to writing, Burgess spends much of his free time visiting libraries and schools talking to adolescence in hopes of inspiring a love for reading as well as engaging in frank discussions about topics often found in his novels.
Information retrieved from
Here is an interview with Melvin Burgess on some of his later literature works and his newest writing accomplishments. He clarifies his duties as a writer and he explains opportunities to "illuminate" the young minds of the world who have seemingly, so far, only been offered one way to think, one way to act, and one way to be. He proudly states that he writes controversial books about daring subject matter, but this is all in hopes of shedding light on issues that would otherwise go un-talked about.
For more information on Melvin Burgess, on more literary reviews or perspectives, on
and other inspired works, or on the tough subjects within teenage lives, visit these following links:
- Reviews as well as an inside look at the text of
British Council: Contemporary Writers
Critical Perspective of Burgess and other Contemporary Writers
Melvin Burgess Home Page
Everything Melvin Burgess including Blogs, Bios and Articles.
Burgess' Latest Novel
Legal controversies over Burgess' most recent novel
Life as we know it
Get episode and cast information on ABC's 2004 show based on
Talking With Kids About Tough Issues
A national campaign to guide talks with teens and children about sex, drugs violence and alcohol.
Book Quotes from Melvin Burgess
More Burgess Books
This link allows you to browse other books that Melvin Burgess has written. Many other books of his are widely discussed on the appropriateness of them. If you’re interested in Burgess, here are other links to more of his writings.
Advice on being sexually active
This link provides a couple things to think about for sexual active teens. Like the book, the characters had to make a choice if they wanted to be sexually active but there are a couple things they needed to think about before participating. This article gives a few ideas to think about to understand if you’re ready or not to give yourself away.
Why teen sex?
This link helps parents see when kids are beginning to have sex and what you can do to help influence their decision. In Burgess’ book, there were no parental influence on any of their decisions to wait or to have sex but here is a link that shows the opposite, where parents want to influence their children.
Differences in cultures
This article shows the differences between cultures and the acceptance of sex between Western Europe and America. There are also two additional links that allows you to browse these two cultures and see what their take on teen sex is. The book to us in America may seem raunchy and inappropriate but in Europe, they have a complete different look on sex. This link will help you view both.
Dealing with Divorce
In the book, Dino’s parents deal with the issue of divorce which is a case for many teenagers now. This site helps you understand reasons and helps you to cope with the affects of divorce. This also helps parents to talk with their children about divorce.
Why have an affair?
Affairs are a common occurrence throughout this book. Here is a link that allows you to see insights and advice to why people have affairs whether it is a boyfriend/girlfriend or spouse being unfaithful. These are issues that kids deal with as well, not just adults.
In the book, there is a inappropriate student-teacher relationship that we see develop. This article provides the importance to maintain a professional relationship with your students and teachers that also allows you to be “the cool teacher” without having to sacrifice anything.
Biography of Melvin Burgess
This is a site that gives a biography of Melvin Burgess. There are also a few links inside the site that are from two interviews he did and also some related material links as well. Burgess is one of the most popular and controversial authors and this site is all about him.
Youtube Video of Melvin Burgess
This is a fun video that gives you a look at Melvin Burgess’ life. He talks about his favorite authors and a little bit about his own personal life.
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