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Towelhead: A Novel Paperback – July 15, 2008


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Product Details

  • Paperback: 336 pages
  • Publisher: Simon & Schuster; Media Tie-In edition (July 15, 2008)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1416589309
  • ISBN-13: 978-1416589303
  • Product Dimensions: 8.4 x 5.6 x 0.8 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 10.4 ounces
  • Average Customer Review: 3.7 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (75 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #1,200,107 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Editorial Reviews

Amazon.com Review

Thirteen-year-old Jasira wants what every girl wants: love and acceptance and the undivided attention of whoever she's with. And if she can¹t get that from her parents, then why not from her mother's boyfriend, or her father's muscle-bound neighbor, Mr. Vuoso? Alicia Erian¹s incandescent debut novel, Towelhead, will ring true for readers who remember the rarely poetic transition from childhood to young adulthood. Jasira is a creature of contradiction: both innocent (reading romantic intentions into the grossest displays of lust) and oddly clear-sighted, especially when it comes to the imbalance of power, and the things we do for love. When her mother exiles her to Houston to live with Jasira's strict, quick-to-anger Lebanese father, she quickly learns what aspects of herself to suppress in front of him. In private, however, she conducts her sexual awakening with all the false confidence that pop culture and her neighbor's Playboy magazines have provided.

Jasira tells her story with candor and glimmers of dark, unexpected humor--as when she describes her mother's boyfriend Barry's assistance in her personal grooming: "A week later, Barry broke down and told her the truth. That he had shaved me himself. That he had been shaving me for weeks. That he couldn't seem to stop shaving me." The freshness of her narrative voice sets Towelhead apart from the sentimental or purely harsh treatment of similar subject matter elsewhere, and makes the novel a promising follow-up to Erian¹s well-regarded short story collection, The Brutal Language of Love. --Regina Marler --This text refers to the Hardcover edition.

From Publishers Weekly

Erian (The Brutal Language of Love) takes a dogged, unflinching look at what happens as a young woman's sexuality blooms when only a predatory neighbor is paying attention. After 13-year-old Jasira is sent to live with her father in Houston ("I didn't want to live with Daddy. He had a weird accent and came from Lebanon"), she finds herself coming of age in the shadow of his old world, authoritarian ideas, which include a ban on tampons (they're for married women, he insists) and a friendship with a boy who's black. Trapped between her father's rigidity and a wider culture that seems without rules, Jasira is left to handle puberty on her own, as well as her budding sexual desire and an ongoing longing for love and acceptance. Her creepy neighbor, Mr. Vuoso, senses her desires, and she responds eagerly to his sexual overtures. His willingness to eroticize her is heightened by how exotic—as well as distasteful—he finds her, a half–Middle Eastern child living in America on the eve of the first Gulf War. He hires Jasira to baby-sit for his son, and it's clear that their relationship will destroy them. The writing is not subtle—indeed, it can be quite clunky—but as a meditation on race, adolescence and alienation, the novel has moments of power.
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved. --This text refers to the Hardcover edition.

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Customer Reviews

This is a Lolita story being told through Lolita's eyes.
Chris
Anyway, its a pretty good book, though I liked some of her short stories better.
TexasFight
After all, it isn't Lebanon that is located in North Africa but Egypt!
Caesar M. Warrington

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

33 of 36 people found the following review helpful By A. Jammal on July 3, 2005
Format: Hardcover
I won't waste space here describing the book, as others here have already given great reviews with all the details of the background and characters. I will say that I picked up this book in a large bookstore, intrigued by the title, the Lebanese flag on the jacket, and the hope that it would be a story of the inevitable clash of culture in the Arab-American family. As the American half of an Lebanese-American family, I initially wanted to love it. I admit I quite often found it as hard to put down as it was hard to keep reading. I literally threw it across the room at one point, as I began to hate how this young girl's life was evolving. I was also once a thirteen year-old girl, and I agree with the other reviewers that Jasira's narrative makes her seem much younger than that. However, her sad existence up to that point (the product of the world's most selfish parents) almost make it understandable. She is so starved for atttention, that I knew immediately as I read, what would happen to her. I also realized that this was so much less a novel about her culture (or, rather, the culture of her father), and more a novel about her sexual awakening, and her search for love and attention. Therefore, the title really seems out of place. Her ethnicity is really not a part of the book, and as her features or appearance is never really described, it makes one wonder why others would taunt her with such a name. I, like many other reviewers here, was also amazed that the glaring error of claiming Lebanon as a North African country passed by the editors, and not once, but several times! The writer should know, as well, that most Lebanese Christians do not even identify themselves with Arab culture at all. Naming a child after Yasir Arafat simply would not happen in a Christian Lebanese family.Read more ›
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16 of 18 people found the following review helpful By Katrina Denza on May 3, 2005
Format: Hardcover
In Towelhead, Alicia Erian's debut novel, readers are offered a view of what it might be like to grow up a child of two parents of different cultures. We may not leave with any more idea about that than we had coming into the novel but we will get a glimpse of a whole lot more than we probably bargained for.

Thirteen year old Jasira, the main character of the novel, is at once notably naive and sophisticated as she determines the best way to walk across the thin ice of her parents' making. Her mother, a controlling, self-centered, unloving school teacher won't show Jasira how to shave her bikini line so that Jasira may feel comfortable at the swimming pool. For some unknown reason, Jasira's mother is uncomfortable with Jasira's developing body. Her mother's boyfriend steps in and does the shaving, swimsuit on, and when her mother finds out, Jasira is sent away to live with her father.

If the reader is looking for some relief for Jasira in the home of her father, they will be disappointed because Daddy turns out to be even more uncomfortable than her mother with not only Jasira's body, but the very idea of her existence. Not only are Daddy's rules unreasonable but they are unpredictable and Jasira has to second guess everything that comes out of her mouth.

Next door lives a pedophile who throughout the book seems to be the one abuser of the three (mother, father, neighbor) that holds any amount of conflicting feelings and guilt regarding his actions whereas the mother and father remain oblivious to their offenses.

Added to the mix are the politics of war (although Erian does not dig all that deep in this area); adolescent sexuality; and racial issues (again not a lot of depth to the issue of racial differences).
Read more ›
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14 of 16 people found the following review helpful By Michael Huggins on August 1, 2005
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
As noted by other reviewers, Erian's (and her editor's) apparent ignorance of the true location of Lebanon is amazing. Other than that, the book is a marvel. It pulled me in from the very first sentence, and I read the first 200 or so pages in a day. If I didn't know better, I would think this was a true, autobiographical account written by a 13-year-old. She's cunning and clever, and in some ways very insightful, but not yet wise. On one level, she reminds me of the hapless stenographer of A.N. Wilson's novel, "Wise Virgin," of some years ago. On another, the naive protagonist of Mary Gordon's "Final Payments."

Only one episode did not ring true to me: that the little girl's racist neighbor would not have been enraged and threatened violence when he learned that the girl and her black friend from school had let themselves into his house and harassed his son. And I find it hard to believe anyone, no matter how sympathetic, agreeing to keep a dead cat in her freezer, although I suppose anything is possible. Other than that, every reaction, every episode, and every character seemed real, and I had absolutely no idea how it would turn out. Up to the last few pages, I still thought it would end tragically.

Erian took three years to write this, destroying an initial 100-page draft because the voice sounded too adult. Her hard work shows: the voice is one of the most authentic things about this book.
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10 of 11 people found the following review helpful By Lynn Sternberger on March 30, 2005
Format: Hardcover
Life with Daddy is a delicate balance. Stifled by her father's strict guidelines of behavior and discomfort with his daughter's sexuality, Jasira begins masking her feelings and hiding signs of her budding desire. Her repression at home leads her to seek asylum in the company of several neighbors and school friends. Her flirtation with army reservist Mr. Vuoso introduces her to both the positive and negative sides of sexual expression.
Erian has told Jasira's story with the painstaking care of someone who loves the character she is writing about. You can tell that she wants to protect Jasira, but she never shies away from showing the painful truth.
You find yourself torn between the moral norm and the complicated and problematic alternative. And the genius of it is, a lot of the time the complicated answer seems to be just what Jasira needs.
Jasira's story is heartbreaking and subtle. She'll steal your heart.
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