Towelhead: a novel by Alicia Erian

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Erian, Alicia. Towelhead: A Novel. Simon & Schuster, 2008. ISBN 978-1416589303. 336 pp.  $12.00

**

Ok, I don’t know why books about predatory relationships keep falling into my lap. Could someone please send something lighthearted and funny my way??

Towelhead is about the early sexualization of an Arab-Irish girl so starved for affection and physical contact she constantly allows men to overstep their boundaries in a variety of inappropriate ways. When Jasira’s mother discovers her own boyfriend is helping her daughter get a neat bikini line, she kicks the guy out and sends Jasira to live with her strict Arab father, thinking that living with a man will help learn how to act appropriately around them. An upstanding member of the armed services who lives next door takes an interest in the 34-C cup teen, who begins to baby-sit for his obnoxious son. We know what’s coming, it’s just a matter of how long.

The story takes place during the 1990’s but it seems to take place in a cultural void, with little detail about time and place to round out the narrative. The Gulf War is the only orienting detail. The voice, at a blend of innocent and worldly, is near pitch perfect, but the plot is so overly focused on sexual awakening that there isn’t space to examine the prejudices and racial issues more closely.

There are two redeeming qualities to this book. Jasira embraces her sexual feelings and explores how to give herself pleasure, and recognizes that she deserves to feel good about herself and her body. And, the thirteen-year-old black boy who becomes her boyfriend is more of a gentleman than the pervert next door, and it is refreshing to think that an adolescent boy might have learned something in a porn magazine beyond idolizing airbrushed dolts: he genuinely seems to care about what Jasira wants and is as focused on her pleasure in their relationship as his own.

Review by Beth Gallaway, originally posted at http://hiplibrariansbookblog.blog-city.com

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