Monday, 4 May 2015

Review: The Shameless Hour by Sarina Bowen

5 stars

Sarina Bowen's The Shameless Hour popped up on my Amazon in the 'New for You' section, and I was instantly drawn in by the beautiful cover:

Even more intriguing was the fact that, out of 16 reviews, there was only one person who hadn't given it 5 stars. I bought it to find out what kind of super-book could manage that, and stayed up waaay too late to finish it. The madness continued when I mass-downloaded the rest of the Ivy Years series, which I devoured during Sydney's so-called Storm of the Century. (Coincidentally, a century is also the estimated time before my teleco gets my internet working again. I think they must be using hairdryers to get the water out of the cables or something.)

But moving away from my #firstworldproblems and back the the topic at hand, I think it's fair to say that I was very impressed with The Shameless Hour. The last time I remember being this engrossed in a New Adult book was Trade Me, which was the not only the first review I posted on this blog, but also the impetus for starting it. As with Trade Me, it was the layers of the characters - and the way these embodied the struggle of the modern, diverse world - that I really loved.

The protagonists, Rafe and Bella, live in the same building at the prestigious (but fictional) Harkness College. The night they meet properly, Bella invites Rafe - devastated and drunk after finding out his girlfriend has been cheating on him with some Rolex-wearing jerk - into her room. One one-night stand later, Rafe's lost his virginity. Bella, not understanding why he's so awkward after their encounter, decides to avoid him. And she does a pretty good job, until Rafe's the person who discovers her at the lowest point in her life. She's been drugged by a frat and had profanities written across every inch of her skin in permanent marker. Even worse, it's all across the internet.  Realising Bella has no-one else, Rafe steps up, refusing to let her live out the rest of the semester from beneath her duvet cover.

As that brief rundown of the plot suggests, The Shameless Hour was refreshingly different from the bulk of romances, New Adult or otherwise. For one, Bella's no shrinking violet of a heroine. She goes after what she wants and her transformation from sex-positive feminist to reclusive hermit and back again is supremely affecting. Rafe is such a caring and thoughtful hero, there's a jaded part of me that wonders if he's more closely related to leprechauns and unicorns than your average college-aged guy.

Rafe is not actually descended from little green men; he's of Dominican extraction, and no one ever heard of a Dominican leprechaun.  But his ethnic background isn't just a sop thrown in to appeal to a wider market. It's integral to his character, the reason he's still a virgin at twenty.  His mother, having being knocked up and then abandoned by Rafe's dad at the tender age of nineteen, brought him up with the old tenet of if-you-don't-want-children-don't-have-sex, as well as a healthy respect for women.  It is partly Rafe's experience of what happens to good Catholic girls who fall on hard times that makes him so compassionate toward Bella.  The result is an interesting reversal of one of romance's most long-standing and pervasive tropes: the sexually experienced man and virginal woman.

The Shameless Hour was a truly 21st century novel. It tackles some serious social issues, but does so in a way that is remarkably un-judgemental and keeps the reader engaged. Even as the slut-shaming Bella was put through made my heart break, another part of me was going 'yes, finally someone's talking about this stuff, making it clear that we don't bring it on ourselves, that it's a problem and not just our cross to bear'.  I honestly can't stress enough how much it meant to me to read about a heroine who was as sure of herself and her beliefs, and in a stunning example of why we need these characters who challenge the assumption that women who are not 'pure' have no worth, the very day I read this book Avengers actors Jeremy Renner and Chris Evans called another (female) character in the movie a 'slut' and a 'whore'.  They were, of course, called out and both issued 'apologies' which basically told everyone offended that they needed to learn to take a joke. 

Such is life, but maybe one day - if we have more great books like The Shameless Hour - things will be different.

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