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The “S” Word in YA Literature

November 21, 2007

The “s” word in young adult literature is not the synonym for fecal matter, rather it’s that oh so snide remark that you and I have probably heard one too many times, slut. I’m not saying that anyone has ever called me a slut, but I’ve heard the term hurtfully used enough in my life to think of it as one of those pejoratives where there needs to be a movement to reclaim it. In Laura Ruby’s Good Girls the protagonist and her friends seem to get about as close to reclaiming the word as they can when they dress as virginal brides to the prom.

I recently read Sara Zarr’s Story of a Girl which also deals with this particular issue. What strikes me both in Good Girls and Story of a Girl is that neither girl is the dictionary definition of slut, rather they are mislabeled and maligned as such because of a specific event that changes their lives. defines slut as:
Main Entry:
Middle English slutte
15th century

1chiefly British : a slovenly woman

2 a: a promiscuous woman; especially : prostitute b: a saucy girl : minx

Audrey in Good Girls is photographed in an intimate situation and this photo circulates throughout school ruining her “good girl” reputation. Deanna in Story of a Girl is caught by her father making out with a guy in the backseat of a car. Neither girl is in a “committed” relationship and thus they are open to attack from their peers.


So here’s my little rant. Is sexual liberation limited to those who are 18 and older? Are we promoting literature that maintains the status quo where young women can have sex in stories but only if they’re in committed monogamous relationships? Good Girls and Story of a Girl do a great job of questioning the term slut and applaud both Laura Ruby and Sara Zarr for their brave stances. I can imagine that they’re getting a fair share of flack for their scrutiny of societal conceptions. Anyway, I’d like to write more, but my thoughts still aren’t totally fleshed out.


2 Comments leave one →
  1. November 21, 2007 9:23 pm

    The sad fact is, sexual liberation isn’t even available to girls 18 years and older — this attitude about female sexuality can and does continue on into adulthood. If women are having casual sex at all, at any point in their lives, they’re judged and maligned for it, while the same has not and is not true for men. I read something about this at Pandagon, and it just really makes me ill.

    Meanwhile, I haven’t heard of these books and will be checking them out now, so thanks for the thoughtful look at them.

  2. December 14, 2007 5:25 pm

    You might enjoy this audio interview with “Story of a Girl” and “Sweethearts” author Sara Zarr: .

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