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Politics and Sexual Violence in PLUS ONE, a guest post by author Elizabeth Fama (and a GIVEAWAY)

An Intro from Karen: So, here’s a deep dark secret: Sometimes, when I really love a book and want to talk about it, I contact the author, mostly to avoid spoilers for those who haven’t read it yet (you’re welcome). I first contacted author Elizabeth Fama when I read Monstrous Beauty and wrote my post about the common, every day sexual abuse many girls face in this world that we don’t normally talk about, like street harassment. And I was blown away once again by the upcoming Plus One (releases tomorrow). So I emailed her. And as we talked she asked if I wanted to be on the promotional tour for the book and I jumped at the chance. Today, she is joining us to talk about the sexual politics in Plus One. She will also be joining us later in the year for the #SVYALit Project. Read to the bottom for your chance to win a copy of PLUS ONE by Elizabeth Fama.
 
 
Note from Elizabeth to Karen’s readers: This post necessarily includes spoilers for Plus One, which I alert you to as they happen, so that you can scroll past the worst of it if you prefer. For trigger purposes, you should know the post discusses sexual violence, but without graphic descriptions. 
 
Politics and Sexual Violence in Plus One

Sexual violence seems to be an issue my brain wants to work on when I write books. I’m so glad that readers like Karen are thinking about it too, and engaging the literary world in conversation.


The action, romance, and even the baby stealing in Plus One seem to have captured the attention of many early readers, sometimes distracting them from the politics of freedom in the book–which includes sexual freedom as a subset. My own editor said that the design team had tried hard to create a cover that reflected the multiple aspects of the book, but they kept coming back to the fact that the romance resonated strongly with everyone on staff at Macmillan, and they decided to embrace it. They’re right: the book is hard to summarize with one image. And their jacket design turns out to be, frankly, irresistible–an outstanding marketing move. Still, I worry that the gorgeous cover has the potential to distract from the serious themes inside, which I hope teens will think about and discuss.

So you can imagine my pleasure when Karen contacted me with this:

I thought the politics of the situation were dead on and were in fact the most compelling part of the story….The sexual violence aspects of it — and to me, any type of unwanted sexual contact is a form of violence — definitely played into it. That scene with Gigi and the Hour Guard, uggh.  Also, interesting because I have read several [books] recently where sexual favors are coerced from young girls.  I’ve been wanting to write a thing about this. Of course there is also the scene with Sol and D’Arcy that is really a beautiful scene about consensual sex and caring.


The truth is, whenever I want to include a sexual interaction in a book, I try to ask myself why it’s there, and whether it needs to be. While many teens in the real world have sex simply because they enjoy it, this is literature, and I need it to be there for a reason that’s integral to the plot and themes. (The wise editor Jean Karl once told Franny Billingsley to remove every single thing from her manuscript that wasn’t “wholly necessary,” and I follow that advice to this day.)  In the case of Plus One, both of the major sexual encounters and even one minor one tie in with the politics of the world, and with the theme of lost liberties. 
****The paragraphs in blue contain spoilers. Scroll down to the black paragraph at the bottom if you’d like to avoid them.****
Gigi’s circumstance is obvious: Brad the Hour Guard is able to abuse his authority by putting her in a position where she has to barter for ordinary freedoms using sex. This is a case of sexual violence via asymmetric power. (The actual sex happens “off camera.”) Although Gigi technically consents to the encounter, she would say no if she could: she is forced to make this “choice.” (Recall that Sol observes in the hospital that another Hour Guard has “the Official-Business swagger that’s so ubiquitous among ordinary people who are granted extraordinary authority.”) No one takes this event lightly in the book; D’Arcy and Sol identify it as horrific violence, and a grim commentary on their helplessness. Despite her stoic facade, Gigi is profoundly affected, and in the meeting with the Noma she impulsively seeks validation that it was a necessary sacrifice. I know this scene with Gigi and Brad has upset some readers, who feel it’s unnecessary and “out of the blue,” but I think it’s important. In particular, the scene acts in tandem with the other sex scene of the book, in which Sol is able to express healthy sexual agency. In fact, Sol is so in charge of her sexuality that she can literally say these unequivocal words to D’Arcy: “I want to have sex with you,” and to act on them responsibly and without guilt. D’Arcy is definitely game, but even with her bold proclamation he checks twice that she hasn’t changed her mind (once before and once during their encounter).    
 
But wait, the consensual scene itself is a little more complicated than that, because it continues to tie in with the theme of loss of liberties. Yes, Sol and D’Arcy are equal partners when they have sex, but as I discussed in a post on Keertana’s blog, a different kind of pressure is present for them. Keertana worried that the sex was rushed and unnecessary, and that the professions of love were too quick. That sense she had of “rushing” was right on target: both the sex and the love are hurried for a reason. Sol believes she’ll never see D’Arcy again, and she’s taking the one and only opportunity she has to be with this person she cares so deeply about. Who knows how their relationship would have progressed if they’d had the luxury of time? We already know, for instance, that D’Arcy has taken dating other girls very slowly, and has been thoughtful about what he is and is not ready for. His fear of physically hurting Sol is strong enough that it may have led them to delay intercourse, and to take it in baby steps. But because of the politics of this world, they can’t do it that way. 

There’s a third sexual encounter in the book that’s also related to the political theme (but much more subtly): Sol’s encounter in the gangway with Ace when she’s only eleven. It’s an experience I think a lot of girls have, and it’s on the spectrum of sexual violence (even though it may seem relatively “harmless,” and Ace himself is underage). Sol believes his kissing and fondling are affectionate–that he must “like” her. She has a crush on him after that, and thinks she wants it to happen again, until she’s the same age he was when he did it and she sees his behavior for what it was (an older boy taking sexual advantage of a child). To me this has a (granted, very subtle) symmetry with the Day/Night policy, which people have accepted at face value as a restriction that was put in place to protect us, and are only slowly coming to realize is wrong. Sometimes breaches of rights present themselves as benign at first, and confuse us into not resisting. 
For me the point of this novel was to get young readers invested in the sexual and romantic elements so that they would really internalize multiple facets of individual liberty. While there are many other freedoms the characters have lost (such as the ability to choose their own education and career), I suspect sex and love are more powerfully relevant issues in the adolescent experience. I wanted teens to understand the violation of the Day/Night divide for what it was–to imagine themselves coping with it. I wanted them to pay attention to Grady Hastings’ speech “You can only be free if I am free.” (Which is actually Grady quoting Clarence Darrow.) I hoped Gigi’s predicament, and Sol’s and D’Arcy’s journey, would help readers see that all rights, including the rights of people who aren’t like you, are worth fighting for. The sexual violence is there for a reason: I wanted it to be very clear in Plus One that the world is not right–that a lot of work needs to be done in this society to restore personal freedom.  

About PLUS ONE:

Divided by day and night and on the run from authorities, star-crossed young lovers unearth a sinister conspiracy in this compelling romantic thriller.

Seventeen-year-old Soleil Le Coeur is a Smudge—a night dweller prohibited by law from going out during the day. When she fakes an injury in order to get access to and kidnap her newborn niece—a day dweller, or Ray—she sets in motion a fast-paced adventure that will bring her into conflict with the powerful lawmakers who order her world, and draw her together with the boy she was destined to fall in love with, but who is also a Ray.

Set in a vivid alternate reality and peopled with complex, deeply human characters on both sides of the day-night divide, Plus One is a brilliantly imagined drama of individual liberty and civil rights, and a fast-paced romantic adventure story




Goodreads Link: https://www.goodreads.com/book/show/17934493-plus-one?from_search=true
Buy Links Amazon  Barnes and Noble 


Author Bio:

ELIZABETH FAMA is the YA author most recently of Plus One, an alternate-history thriller set in contemporary Chicago. Her other books include Monstrous Beauty, a YALSA Best Fiction for Young Adults selection and an Odyssey honor winner, and Overboard, an ALA Best Book for Young Adults, a society of Midland Authors honor book, and a nominee for five state awards. A graduate of the University of Chicago, where she earned a B.A. in biology and an M.B.A. and a Ph.D. in economics, she lives with (and cannot live without) her boisterous, creative family in Chicago.

Author Links: Website / Twitter / Tumblr

Tour Schedule:
March 31st  –  Fiction Fare
April 1st       – The Starry Eyed Revue
April 2nd      – Ivy Book Bindings
April 3rd       – Carina’s Books
April 4th       – Presenting Lenore
April 5th       – Shae Has Left the Room
April 6th       – The Best Books Ever
April 7th       – Teen Librarian Toolbox
April 8th       – Love is Not a Triangle  (Release Day)
April 9th      –  The Bevy Bibliotheque

Comments

  1. A very thought provoking post!! I absolutely love reading books that make me think. Sure, I do love to read books for entertainment, but the ones that stick with me are ones that make me question things. I didn't read the spoiler paragraphs, but I just know that Plus One is going to do just that! Now I'm thoroughly looking forward to reading Plus One 😀

  2. Loved Monstrous Beauty and can't wait to read this one!

  3. What a fascinating post! I love it when a book doesn't shy away from important issues, even when they're controversial. Just makes me want to read this even more!

  4. Interesting info about the book

  5. I can't wait to read this book! It sounds like such a smart and thoughtful story.

  6. Ok, now I'm fascinated. Must read this book.

  7. I already have had this on my list for a while, but seeing how much thought she must have put into each scene of the book just makes me want to read it that much more. Plus One really sounds like a unique and amazing book and I really hope I get my hands on it soon! My library takes years sometimes to get YA books!

  8. I love how you included a spoiler alert! It's nice to know that the book is also serious! Every post I read makes me want it more and more! 🙂

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