- Reviewed by
A welcome exploration of the representation of adolescent sexuality in young adult fiction, Lydia Kokkola’s Fictions of Adolescent Carnality: Sexy Sinners and Delinquent Deviants fills a gap in contemporary scholarship [End Page 88] with its specific focus. Reading a corpus of close to 200 young adult novels and short fiction written in English since the Second World War, this book provides an analysis of the ideology of adolescence and its intersection with the representation of carnality. Kokkola presents three basic premises: first, that adolescence is constructed as a time of angst in order to exalt adulthood and preserve the notion of the innocent child; second, that Anglophone culture is much more fearful of teenaged sexuality than its European counterparts; and third, that sexuality is the rigorously-policed boundary between adulthood and adolescence. Through her chapters on sexual empowerment, pregnancy, queerness, bestiality (metamorphosis into animals primarily), and sexual abuse, Kokkola finds that adolescent carnality is variously punished, policed, or problematized. The strength of Kokkola’s investigation rests in her identification of the power of the reader to read queerly, to “read back and produce counter narratives,” as she does in her study (214). While adult writers construct these stories where teens are anguished over sexuality, and then punished for it, Kokkola suggests that the reader potentially offers an intervention in that representation.
This book breaks new ground by offering a full-length, sustained exploration of the contentious topic of literature for young people and sexuality. Kokkola’s writing style and sense of humour makes this work infinitely readable as well. She inserts parenthetical asides where she admits to her actual, non-academic response to something, for example, and she writes with a personality that is delightful. When she discusses the representation of crisis focused on adolescence, she writes: “Well, excuse me Chicken Licken, but I’m having a hard time working up a sense of anxiety about this particular crisis” (209).
As I read this book, I found myself growing increasingly disturbed that Kokkola did not engage with issues of race, and indeed, race only came up when the texts presented non-white characters. Kokkola does confront race, if it is late in the book. She writes, “So far, my enquiry has treated race as though it were a neutral category, although it clearly is not” (174). She points out here that her corpus contains mostly white characters and that, when racial or ethnic minorities appear, they are problematically connected to victimhood.
I would be remiss, as well, if I did not mention the numerous typos that pepper the pages of this edition. I’m not certain on whose shoulders the responsibility for the missing words, misspellings and sentence structure problems should rest; however, it seems to me that John Benjamins might consider employing a more attentive copy editor and proofreader.
That said, this book is a delightful read and an important contribution to the study of sexuality and of young adult fiction. I highly recommend it. [End Page 89]