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
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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.
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