by Keith Gray (Editor)
‘Are there degrees of virginity? Is there a points system? A league table?’ the narrator of Patrick Ness’s ‘Different Boys’ asks. In a collection of eight stories focused on ‘losing it’, it’s refreshing to see what constitutes that all-important ‘first time’ actually questioned, not to mention the difficulty of writing about such things for teenage audiences commented upon (the characters in the story are aware of the black boxes that appear on the page ‘because we’re too young to read about the stuff we actually do’, understanding that actual details mustn’t be provided ‘in case anyone uses it as a roadmap’).
Ness’s contribution is an absolute gem, though there are others: Sophie McKenzie’s ‘The Way It Is’ juxtaposes male and female perspectives in a first humorous, then poignant way; Anne Fine’s tale of a sex ed teacher convinced that teens today are infinitely more experienced than she ever was, whether with bananas or the real thing, is another which is both hilarious and genuinely moving; Jenny Valentine’s ‘The Age of Consent’ layers a familiar cautionary tale wonderfully as the 13-year-old narrator learns about which kind of man to be.
This thought-provoking and well-crafted anthology, largely set in contemporary Britain though rounded out by the Victorian morality of Mary Hooper’s ‘Charlotte’ and the dark family secret of Bali Rai’s ‘The White Towel’, will appeal to older teens (though a verdict of ‘shocking and unsuitable!’ is more likely to get them picking this one up!).