In December 2013, School Library Journal reviewed Julie Halpern’s The F-It List (Feiwel & Friends, 2013). Kelly Jensen, a blogger and former-YA librarian at Wisconsin’s Beloit Public Library, took issue with several of our reviewer’s criticisms of the novel. Reviewer Nancy Reeder responded to Jensen’s concerns in a subsequent letter.
After reading Julie Halpern’s The F-It List, I read SLJ’s review in hopes of seeing it highlight the book’s portrayal of female friendship and positive female sexuality. Unfortunately, the review left me cold.
In particular, I found the [reviewer’s] line “Both girls have casual, unprotected sex with all of their boyfriends without any thoughts of taking precautions” to be problematic. This is not only a judgment of the choices these girls make in terms of their own sexuality (it puts the responsibility for safe sex entirely on them, rather than as a shared responsibility between consenting partners), but it’s factually incorrect.
This is a sex-positive story of two girls figuring out their own sexuality that is encouraging of self-exploration and safe sex between consenting parties.
In at least two instances, Alex is clear that she not only has access to condoms, but she tells the boy she is with he needs to wear one. She explains, too, that given the bad luck she’s had in the past year, if she doesn’t use protection, she’d likely end up pregnant. Alex is empowered and vocal about how important protection is to her.
This review not only condemns choices made that fit with the story and characters, but it’s incorrect in the details it presents. Those who need reviews to purchase materials for their collection are done a disservice, but it’s the teen readers, who may need a story like Halpern’s, who really lose out.
—Kelly Jensen, a YA librarian and blogger
I disagree that this is a sex-positive story of two girls figuring out their own sexuality. It is a story of two girls having sex with multiple partners with whom they have no emotional attachment. When Leo, one of Alex’s partners, begins to show some affection toward her, her first thought is to break up with him, because she can’t handle being emotionally close to him.
Alex has sex a total of seven times, but the topic of safe sex is mentioned only twice. Becca admits to having sex three times before she was diagnosed with cancer, and when she is declared in remission, she begins having sex with the boy next door “most nights,” and there is no mention of her taking precautions. There are differing views on teens being sexually active and how those situations are represented in literature for teens; ultimately, librarians must choose the books they feel reflect the needs of their patrons.
—Nancy P. Reeder, Heathwood Hall
Episcopal School, Columbia, SC