The Nerdy and the Dirty by B. T. Gottfred
Release Date: November 15th 2016
His classmates may consider him a nerd, but Benedict Pendleton knows he's destined for great things. All he has to do is find a worthy girlfriend, and his social station will be secured. Sure, Benedict is different--but that's what he likes about himself.
Pen Lupo is sick and tired of hiding who she is. On the outside, Pen is popular, quiet, and deferential to her boyfriend. On the inside, however, Pen is honest, opinionated--and not sure that she's quite like other girls. Do they have urges like she does?
When fate intervenes, Pen and Benedict end up at the same vacation resort for winter break. Despite their differences, the two are drawn together. But is there such a thing as happily ever after for this unlikely pair?
I wanted to love this book. I really, really did. I first saw it on Edelweiss, but I didn’t get to it before it was published. I love frank sex talk for teens ala Forever (Blume). I truly believe teens need those type of books; however, this is not it.
But it got good professional reviews and has decent buzz. Indeed it has gotten lots of praise, but I found the book incredibly problematic. I seriously cannot understand why no one but School Library Journal pointed out any of it, even as a precaution. While this is a rant for another day, I will say we need to do better. Hopefully, by the time I’m finished, you’ll agree with me.
Okay, let’s start with the writing. I found most of it to be choppy and stilted, especially when it came to Benedict. I do believe this was done on purpose, to highlight his “tin man” likeness, but it drove me crazy. Here’s an example of what I mean:
When I got home, I wanted to talk to my dad. He would have great advice. He’s brilliant. I’m not saying that just because he’s my dad. He’s a psychiatrist and an author. (p 17)
I know there’s technically nothing wrong with the sentence structure, but most of the book is in this format. For me, it’s jarring and pulls me out of the story. I honestly almost DNF at page 30 because of the writing.
Benedict as character has a lot of issues. I would wager by the way he talks and acts, that it is possible he is on the spectrum. I do not know this for sure, though, so it’s strictly a guess. However, if he is, the whole storyline that he can just be “normal” if he tries hard enough is problematic. Even if he is, that does not excuse some of his actions/allow him to be a jerk. I absolutely hate the way he treats his mother. Several times it is mentioned that his mom is the beauty and not the brains. She couldn’t possibly help him because she’s not intelligent enough to help him. It has to be his dad. I know a lot of this was force fed by his father, but it’s still not okay, especially since this attitude is basically applied to all women. I will give points for Benedict back pedaling on this train of thought as the book continued, though.
Of course, there is sex in this book. I’ll admit at times it is gratuitous, like telling me which hand is used to masturbate, but most of it isn’t too bad. I do like that most of the sex talk is straightforward. No cute slang for genitalia and consent is usually asked (at least with Benedict and Pen). However, it does at time makes the scenes seem a bit unrealistic, especially the first actual sex scene. It felt a bit too mature, however, that’s a bit of nitpicky thing. What is not okay is how female masturbation is treated. Pen repeatedly calls herself a freak because she likes to masturbate and think about sex. She even gets sent to in-patient church therapy when her mom discovers her in the act. Benedict does tell her it’s healthy and that more girls should masturbate, but there is still a sense that Pen believes she’s a freak. Also, I do find that hard to believe that none of the girls talk about sex, even with religion thrown into the mix. I can remember sitting in 7th grade and listening to girls talk about their sex lives. Considering that was over 20 years ago, I can’t imagine it’s changed too much, especially the amount of times I’ve told my teens our program talk is PG-13.
I’m going to start delving into some of the stuff that really bothered me. The top of my list is abuse. Pen’s (ex) boyfriend, Paul, is highly abusive mentally, sexually, & physically. Here are just some of the passages that highlights how abusive he is:
“You’re not beating him up, Paul,” I say. Shit. I never tell him what to do or not to do. You know. I always do my passive thing….
“Babe, you can’t talk to me like that.” (p 24)
“I love you too.” I always said “I love you” after he did. I said it first once and it weirded him out. So I say it second. Always. (p 34)
After school, Paul grabbed me under the amr and dragged me out to his car. He kept twisting the skin under my arm. It felt like flesh would tear off, and I never told him to stop. Just take the pain, Pen. It’s okay. Paul would never really hurt me…..”If we hadn’t had sex, i would totally break up with you, Pen! But I love you and we’re going to get married. But we’re going to hate each other like your parents hate each other unless you stop acting like a cunt.” (p 52)
“How are you going to make it up to me?” ….Before I even undid my seatbelt, he put his hand behind my head and started guiding me down toward his crotch. It’s not like he shoved me down there. But, I don’t know, I guess I made it up to him. (p 53)
There is more I could pull, but I’ll stop there. Paul is abusive, no excuses. He breaks up with her after her mom decides Paul shouldn’t join them on vacation at the resort. He knows she was sent away for therapy, but doesn’t know the details. Instead, he uses it as an excuse for them to take a break and for him to mess around with another girl. During this break is when Pen hooks up with Benedict. Three days. Three days is all it takes for her to magically break “free”. When the vacation ends disastrously (I’ll get to this in a bit), she goes to see Paul. She doesn’t even care that he cheated and tells him it’s over. He refuses to let her go and then hits her, which she reports to the cops. I’m glad that she that she reported it, but it feels unlikely that after being in an abusive relationship for years she could stand up for herself so fast. It makes it appear that walking away from abusive partners is simple, but in real life it would have been way more of a struggle. Also, I hate how it was kind of swept under the rug/explained away because his own mother was abusive as well. It was odd how Pen was just like “well, that explains it” and go on her merry way.
Pen’s mother is also pretty abusive, which again is swept away with an explanation as to why it happens. Not only does Pen mother send her away to therapy for masturbating, but she also calls the cops to assure she goes. It’s also implied many times that Pen’s mother is verbally abusive. The reason? View Spoiler »Her mother was raped when Pen was a baby. I hate that this was used to explain why Pen’s mother could be horrible and mentally unstable. Experiencing rape is a horrible thing, so I’m not saying these actions are unrealistic, just that is seemed another way to explain away abuse/tie everything into a neat little bow. I won’t even get into how it’s the priest who divulges this information, breaking her mother’s confidence in him. « Hide Spoiler
If that wasn’t enough, the way crazy, retard, & whore are thrown around is horrible. This is the area I’m most upset that professional reviewers didn’t at least call out as a precaution. Pen repeatedly calls her mom or herself crazy or nuts. I hate how loosely the word is thrown around. This passage struck me the hardest
So, yeah, it was a panic attack. I’m crazier than my mother. (p 83)
No. No, no, no, no. I hate the implications this makes on people who experience panic attacks. How would a teen who experience panic attacks regularly feel after that statement? It’s an illness that no one should be ashamed up and it certainty doesn’t make one crazy.
As for retard and whore, once Benedict and Pen are discovered in a warming hut naked, those words are thrown around without care. Her mother repeatedly called Benedict a retard and Pen a whore. A sentiment that his father echoes. A sentiment that Benedict starts to repeat to himself/believe.
Do you think she ever wants to see a boy again whose father called her a whore? Use your brains, retard. (p 225)
If I’m correct and Benedict is on the spectrum, this is unforgivable, especially since no one tries to stop them from saying it. In fact, only Pen says not to use those words, once, to Paul during their fight. That’s it. One could argue it was the parents lashing out, but I’m extremely disappointed by how casually those words are used.
I wish I had more positive things to say about this book, but it was a complete miss in my eyes.