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It's Time For Decisions: Awakening Sexual Identities
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Reader reviewed by Douglas R. Cobb

Fourteen-year-old Krista McKinley finds herself a stranger in a strange land when she, her mom, and her two older stepbrothers move from Ohio, where she attended a Catholic private school, to California, where she gets enrolled at Crestmount High, a public school. She faces culture shock and experiences confusion about dating, being around boys as schoolmates for the first time, and questions her own sexual preferences in the debut coming-of-age novel Torn, by Amber Lehman. Itll pull at your heartstrings, and make you feel for Kristas situation and her inner turmoil, wanting to fit in, but also desiring to be true to herself. Is it just a phase shes going through, as her brothers Josh and Marc suggest; or, are her feelings for her best friend, Carrie, something more?

The situation Krista is in is a bit strange on a few levels. Her mom and dad are divorced, and her mother is a missionary who is in Nicaragua for a year, leaving her in the charge of her two stepbrothers. Josh and Marc do the best job they can serving as both her brothers and parents en-absentia, but they are no substitute for the real thing. Also, I couldnt help but wonder about Californias laws regarding this sort of arrangement, and if her mothers not being there might be considered to be a case of child abandonment or neglect. Still, looking beyond that issue, I thought the novel was a sensitive treatment of an issue that affects many youths - the questioning of who they are, and how they should act and behave socially and sexually.

Besides her girlfriend Carrie, one of her best friends is Brandon. Brandon is a surfer, and hes very wealthy, athletic, popular, good-looking, the kind of guy other guys admire and girls fall in love with - but, hes also gay. Most of the other guys mentioned in Torn have either had sex with Brandon or also question their sexual identities. Hes had sex with teen girls his own age, but he knows hes gay, and is comfortable with this realization. Hes witty, and somewhat catty, and has a great sense of fashion. Carrie introduces him to Krista early on in the novel, and the three become close pals. Brandon suspects that Krista wants to be more than friends with Carrie, and vice-versa, and he encourages Krista to pursue her feelings.

Brandon is a great friend for Krista in many ways, and an interesting and colorful character. He even becomes Kristas date to the prom. Still, I wondered if Krista maybe wouldnt have ended up questioning her sexual preferences if she had first become friends with heterosexual guys at her new school instead of Brandon and his male friends. Its one thing for Brandon to know who he is and be cool with it, but not everyone is as self-assured or has had as much sexual experiences as he claims to have had. Krista has gone to school only with other girls previously, and has not had any sexual feelings for them, and shes only fourteen, after all. Being around other young people who have had sex likely makes her feel she has to play catch-up with them.

Despite her emotions for and attraction to Carrie, Krista wants to do most of the stuff all teen girls like to do. She totally enjoys dressing up and going to the prom with Brandon, having her first taste of alcohol (courtesy of the bar of the limousine that Brandon rents), and going to parties. Unfortunately, a party she and Carrie gets invited to by seniors at a rival school places her and Carrie in a very sketchy situation, in which their dates do drugs and get them to smoke pot and do cocaine. They both get bombed and their dates try to take advantage of them - not a good initial sexual experience with guys, to put it mildly - and Im sure this also adds to their confusion about their sexual identities and which gender theyre more comfortable with.

Torn is a heartfelt, risk-taking novel that youre sure to like if you have also ever questioned your sexual preferences. Its a novel which has an endearing cast of characters, and its one that parents as well as teens will like reading and discussing together. I have a fourteen-year-old daughter, myself, and I will support her and love her whatever sexual preference she might eventually express. Positive father figures are not portrayed in Torn - the main characters have fathers that either are no longer on the scene, or are - like in Brandons case - but dont have much of an impact on their childrens lives. Kristas friend, Carrie, even develops a theory that real fathers are a myth. Id like to be a better sort of father for my daughter. If you like great coming-of-age novels, whatever your age, youre going to want to check out Torn today!

"Reprinted with author's permission"
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