By Stephanie Dunnewind,
Common Sense Media Reviewer
Common Sense Media Reviewers
Crass, explicit novel tries to be provocative, ends up lame.
A Lot or a Little?
What you will—and won't—find in this book.
The book tries to seem feminist by having lesbian characters in Olivia's play sing about a "land where the men do the chores" and there are "no macho guy wars." But this simplistic, throw-back view of the sexes does not seem very fresh or contemporary. Indeed, lesbians are portrayed as man-haters, saying "Down with men!" Max, Trish, and Olivia try to support Zeke after Zeke's friend dies, but this death is treated as a minor subplot with a character who did little else other than smoke pot; it's hard to work up much empathy. Although the novel starts by making it seem like Olivia is working through issues about her dad through her writing, nothing is resolved.
Positive Role Models
When Zeke asks if Max would date Trish, Max says she is a little overweight but "she's got big t--s." Boys in Olivia's play are disrespectful of girls, saying such things as "Drunk girls rule" and "Go bag some chicks." They discuss how they "slam," "bang," and "screw" chicks. Max gets drunk and has sex with an older college student he met one time; he confesses this to Olivia to prove his honesty. Olivia forces Max to pass a "test" but later admits it was rigged to force him to prove he would fight for her. On the positive side, Dick promises to be loyal and faithful to Jane at the end of the play. Unfortunately, the message is he can't do this without the threat of castration.
Violence & Scariness
In Olivia's play, a group of lesbians at a meeting sing a song called "Castration Celebration," saying "Every boy in this nation/ is subject to castration . . . Take a knife, drop the mop,/ All is takes is just one chop." One girl suggests "trashing" the boys' locker room but none of the others go for it.
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Sex, Romance & Nudity
Sexual innuendos and talk about sexual acts of all kinds pervade the novel. Olivia walks in on her father "being blown" by one of his graduate students. There are several discussions about castration, penises, and genital-related toys. There is an ongoing riff about having sex with sheep. Two boys dare each other to "jack off" on a desk during class. Max says midgets' mouths "are a perfect height" and finds Pat the Bunny "highly erotic." Max writes a song about Twilight's Edward "going down" on Bella during her period. Sluggo notes that lining up Wilt Chamberlain's "p---y" would stretch to China. They sing a song about "wackin' off," mentioning STDs, threesomes, and "pornos." Jane loses her virginity to Dick. Biff sees his parents having sex, "riding her like a horse." Two boys kiss; one says gay sex "hurt a little in a good way." Olivia and Max sleep naked but don't have sex because he doesn't have a condom. Girls gossip about a teacher hitting on students and sleeping with one. Characters turn "Shakespeare" into "baby, shake my spear."
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Frequent swearing, including" "f--king," "f--k," "s--t," "holy s--t," "bulls--t," "p---y," "faggot," c--ksucker," "t--s," "asshole," and "Oh my God."
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Products & Purchases
The novel is set at Yale. Some product mentions, such as Barbie, iPod, Sour Patch Kids, and Pringles. Several celebrities are mentioned by name. Max goes shopping at J. Crew and Urban Outfitters.
Drinking, Drugs & Smoking
Olivia jokes about getting drunk and taking painkillers. With a fair amount of detail, Zeke and Max get high on pot several times (Zeke brings a half-ounce stash to last him through the summer); they get caught by the police once. Max says (with admiration) that Zeke "is like a professional pot smoker." One of Zeke's friends dies from substance abuse (vaguely mentioned). Max gets drunk at a party and has sex with a young woman he met on the train.
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Parents Need to Know
Parents need to know this book is full of crass sexual language and attitudes that are degrading to women (albeit by characters portrayed as dim-witted at best). It mentions sex with sheep, oral sex during menstruation, and finding "a wart you know where." It features constant swearing and several scenes of characters smoking pot and drinking to excess.
Where to Read
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What's the Story?
Scarred by seeing her father cheating with a graduate student, Olivia swears off boys and throws herself into a summer arts camp, where she plans to write a musical, "Castration Celebration." A cute boy, Max, weakens her determination, but is Max willing to wait for her? As the characters in Olivia's play, loosely based on Shakespeare's Much Ado about Nothing, mirror her own experiences, the teens work through issues of sex, dating, and friendship.
Is It Any Good?
Everyone has heard a story that has the teller laughing but leaves listeners wondering what was so funny. "I guess you had to be there" is the common explanation. CASTRATION CELEBRATION readers will feel like that through much of the novel, as Wizner describes his characters falling into "a fit of hysterics" over things that simply aren't very funny. He works too hard informing readers that his shallow main characters are "witty" and their bantering "sharp," when authentic dialogue and an interesting plot arc would have gone a lot further.
There's plenty for parents to find questionable, but most of it is so lame that the real travesty is Wizner's bastardization of Shakespeare. The novel may appeal to readers who enjoy the crude humor of Judd Apatow movies (Superbad), but it can't carry off what centers those movies: a genuine heart.
Talk to Your Kids About ...
Families can talk about how Olivia's emotions come out through her writing. How does art help teenagers express themselves?
They can talk about Max's contention that "the penis has a mind of its own." Olivia wonders, "Is a whole guy's life just one big struggle between what he wants and what society says is okay?" Ask teens what they think.
Families can talk about whether the level of sexual talk is frank or potentially off-putting. For more tips about addressing sexual content in media, see Common Sense's parent advice.
- Author: Jake Wizner
- Genre: Contemporary Fiction
- Book type: Fiction
- Publisher: Random House
- Publication date: May 26, 2009
- Publisher's recommended age(s): 14 - 18
- Number of pages: 292
- Last updated: July 12, 2017
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