February 19, 2014

Review: Sex & Violence by Carrie Mesrobian

Sex & Violence by Carrie Mesrobian
Published: 2013, Carolrhoda LAB
Genre: Young Adult Contemporary
Source: Library
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Evan Carter is the perpetual Fucking New Guy. His dad is a well-known, well-respected computer engineer who moves frequently, with Evan in tow. His dad’s latest move has left Evan attending a boarding school in North Carolina. Evan has no reason to expect that this stint in North Carolina will be anything different than any other move, so he plans on fully taking advantage of his newcomer status to hook up with some girls before moving on.

But Evan has the misfortune of being the object of desire for one girl whose ex-boyfriend isn’t willing to let her go. And Collette, the girl that Evan does initiate a relationship with, is the ex-girlfriend of his current roommate. When the two guys find out about how their ex-girlfriends feel about him, they brutally attack both Evan and Collette.

After the incident, Evan is left with more bruises, stitches, and broken bones than he can count, along with a ruptured spleen. His father pulls him out of school and decides that they should spend the rest of the spring and summer at a family cabin in Pearl Lake, Minnesota. There, his father hopes that Evan can begin to recover.

Sex & Violence is a gritty and piercingly visceral coming of age story, essentially. Over the course of the novel, Evan is forced to reconcile his continued grief over the loss of his mother, form some sort of peace with his father, find ways to relate to his peers on a more profound level, and regain a sense of security once more. Clearly Mesrobian has given herself a lot of issues to tackle in this one book, some to a greater effect than others.

Evan is the kind of person I’d hate in real life. He’s full of internal conflict but to the public appears to be a crass and cocky womanizer. It may be a coping mechanism for him, but that doesn’t make his behavior permissible in the slightest. As jarring as it was to be privy to Evan’s every thought, I do think his first-person narration helped me establish a sympathy for him that would otherwise have been impossible.

Pearl Lake provides Evan with an opportunity to become a newer, better person, one whose life doesn’t have to be dictated by the next booty call or the fear of being attacked. Of course, it’s not simply the remote setting that contributes to Evan’s gradual change of character, but the people who make it up. Through his father, his therapist, friendly neighbors, and a closely-knit group of local teens, Evan works toward finding a sense of self and new purpose in his life. It’s a struggle, of course, and he screws up plenty of times along the way.

For all of his reliance on the superficial pleasures that females can provide, however, the females of this novel are not trivialized, nor are his (or others’) relationships with them. Collette once was the object of Evan’s desire, and now she’s ostensibly the person he’s most open with through his letters. Baker and her mother live next door to Evan’s cabin, and her relationship with Evan is a bit muddled. He likes her, but he respects boundaries and doesn’t try to initiate any romance. More than that, however, Baker is Evan’s friend and he sees her as a shining example of someone who is unapologetic about her needs and desires. Baker and her friends Conley and Kate are three very different girls who have had different experiences with guys over the years. And that’s okay. Both the males and the females of this novel interact with members of the opposite sex in a variety of ways, none of which is ever portrayed as “wrong.”

As part of his therapy sessions out in Pearl Lake, Evan is required to write letters to a friend about his personal life, thoughts, and experiences. He chooses to address those letters to Collette, although he has no intention of sending them to her. Each chapter ends with another one of Evan’s letters to Collette. I loved this narrative technique. Even though readers are inside Evan’s head throughout the everyday events of the book, it is through Evan’s letters that readers can even better see the divide between how Evan presents himself to others and how he’s finally trying to be more open. It’s tragic in a way that the only friend Evan can think of to write these letters to is a girl he knew for a few weeks at most. The relationship that Evan and Collette had was incredibly superficial and ended in tragedy, but I think there’s also a sense of completeness, of rightness, that it is for Collette that Evan first begins to open up.

I quite enjoyed this book up until the last quarter (or perhaps it is the last fifth). Once the fall starts and all of Evan’s new friends from the Pearl Lake area head off to college, I felt as though the story began to lose steam. Life goes on with their absence, of course, but everything begins to feel anticlimactic. Baker, Jim, Tom, and the rest of their friends were the major contributors to Evan’s gradual healing process, and to have them not be there at the end indeed, to have Evan cycle through similar relationships and feelings with new people instead just felt unsatisfying, to say the least.

As a female, I cannot speak to the authenticity of Evan’s voice. It sounded pretty realistic to me, however. Evan’s story is not an easy one to swallow, and yet it makes for an incredibly profound read. Mesrobian introduces readers to many concepts worthy of reflection and greater discussion. This is not a perfect read, nor is it a book for everyone, but it is a rewarding one.

Rating: 4 stars
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Amanda loves few things better than sitting down with a cup of tea and a book. She frequently stays up far too late, telling herself she just needs to finish one more page. When she's not wrapped up in the stories of others, Amanda works as a children's librarian in a public library.


  1. I really enjoyed this too. I'm not usually a fan of letters as a narrative device, but I think they really worked in this story!
    Thanks so much for stopping by! Jen @ YA Romantics

    1. I think so, too. I don't mind epistolary novels, but I can see how the brevity of these letters and the fact they were essentially interludes between chapters can make them more bearable to those who don't like many letters in their novels.

  2. Amanda, I love what you said about the protagonist of this tale. He isn't - not at ALL - the type of person I'd have liked or become friends with but being able to see into his head made such a huge difference on my perception of his personality. I really love that Mesrobian does that - flipping the image - multiple times throughout this book. It's so unexpected in its plot threads, but in a pleasantly different way. Lovely review, Amanda. I agree that this novel lost a biiit of steam towards the tail end, but this was such a strong debut overall.

    1. Exactly! I'm glad we feel basically the same about this book.
      And I'm definitely looking forward to future novels by Mesrobian. :)


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