A lot or a little?
The parents' guide to what's in this book.
What parents need to know
Parents need to know that I Never tells the story of a teen girl's first romance and sexual experiences. Despite being a track and debate star, high school junior Janey King has always flown under the social radar. When a popular and handsome boy asks her out, her world shifts dramatically. Much of the book deals with sex: how long to wait, what it's like, using protection, and how it changes a relationship. The story has many highly explicit descriptions of sexual encounters. It often treads the line between romance and erotica, and it's definitely for older teens. All the sex discussed and depicted is consensual and safe. Some readers might take issue with Janey discovering her beauty only when she sees it from a guy's point of view. The characters hardly swear -- "s--tty" is used once -- and don't drink, smoke, or do drugs. Janey's parents are going through a separation, so some of the story highlights the ways divorce affects families. The book offers many discussion points regarding sex, family communication, and how friendships change as teens mature and introduce other people into their lives.
What's the story?
In the teen romance I NEVER, Janey King's nice, unassuming life undergoes a lot of change quickly when her parents tell her they're separating and a cute, popular boy starts paying attention to her. A junior in high school, Janey has her hands full focusing on track, debate, keeping up her grades, doing well on her standardized and AP tests, and hanging with her friends. When she makes room in her life for her boyfriend Luke, her friendships and her relationship with her parents are put to the test. And because Luke's the first boy she's ever dated, they encounter some romantic problems along the way. For one, her insecurities threaten her relationship with him. The biggest issue for Janey is sex. Is she ready? What will it be like? Things get hot and heavy quickly as her romance with Luke blossoms. She learns a lot about herself as she tackles these life changes in the few months between winter and summer break.
Is it any good?
Explicit teen sex features heavily in this otherwise light high school romance: a fast, fun read with a relatable main character in Janey. Unfortunately, most of the other characters in I Never are drawn in broad strokes and don't have a lot of depth. Author Laura Hopper does an excellent job of presenting the issue of sex in a positive way. Kids and adults discuss the pros and cons of having sex, the value of being in a committed relationship vs. hooking up, and abstinence. The sex in the book is extremely graphic, so much so that it makes the blandness of the rest of the book stand out in comparison.
On a positive note, Janey grows as a character through the course of the story. She learns how complicated adulthood can be, improves her communication with her parents, and learns how to be a better friend.
Talk to your kids about ...
Families can talk about the way teen sex is discussed in I Never. Books and movies portray a range of approaches, from open and supportive conversations with parents to disapproving anger and name-calling. Do any of these portrayals seem realistic to you?
How much of your personal life do you share with your family? What do you think are fair lines between total honesty and privacy? Would you be comfortable talking to your parents about sex?
Do you find balancing friendships, dating, activities, and school a challenge? How do you deal with it?
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