I had sex for the first time when I was 16. It was a disappointing experience made worse by the fact that I was very drunk and laying on a wobbly airbed. It was a blurry haze of nervous excitement and nausea.
Before that night I had thought about having sex almost constantly since the age of 12. I looked at boys like they were prey. The curve of their lips, the bulge of their biceps as the held the rail on the train.
Once my friends started having sex I felt left out. Why couldn’t I have sex? Surely I could find someone to have sex with! Whenever I got the wishbone Sunday family dinner I would make the same wish. I’d close my eyes and pray to the Great Chicken God ‘Please let me lose my virginity, please!’ I was genuinely afraid that I would die a spinster.
This fact makes writing YA fiction a little tricky because for me, young adulthood = sex. If not having sex then thinking about having it. It’s very hard to imagine the inner workings of a teenager’s mind without including how they feel sexually. But alas, every time I try to include sex in a novel, I get told by assessors and potential publishers that sex in YA is a no-no.
But I’m not sure how that can be so, when every girl my age recalls reading Judy Bloom’s Forever, intimately. The copy in my Intermediate school library was so dog-eared and well-loved the pages we’re almost worn through. It was almost always on-loan and on reserve. When I finally got my hands on it I was through in a few hours, emerging from my bedroom rosy-cheeked and enlightened.
Eileen Merriman has somehow managed to get her latest novel Catch Me When You Fall past the YA sex police, and we are lucky she has. Finally! A relatable work of YA fiction that is believable! Teenagers have sex! Surprise!
To be fair though Catch Me When You Fall isn’t just about sex. There’s a lot more going on but sex is definitely a valid part of it.
Alex is sitting in a hospital waiting room when she meets Jamie Orange. “Hey, snap,” he says as he points out that they are both reading the same book. As soon as Alex sets her eyes on him, she can tell there is something about this boy with the light blond hair and the Fox Glacier blue eyes. He’s not like anyone she’s ever met.
Having grown up in hospital undergoing chemotherapy to treat her leukaemia, Alex has been in remission for the last three years. That is until now.
On the very day she meets the vivacious, exciting Jamie is the same day Alex receives the worst new imaginable.
Alex doesn’t want to have leukaemia. Not again. She’s done that all before. She knows all the medical jargon and cancer speak. She knows far more about it all than any 17 year old should. Alex just wants to go to school and text this nice boy and do all the things that normal teenage girls do. But Alex isn’t a normal teenager. Not anymore.
But Alex soon learns that Jamie, with his boundless energy and late night/early morning texts, is not such a normal teenager either. Jamie has bipolar disorder, but as long as he takes his lithium he’ll be fine, he says.
Catch Me When You Fall is an accurate, heart aching story of what it’s like to experience teenage love. It’s beautiful and messy, and painful and fabulous.
Alex’s character is both stoic and strong but inwardly fragile and vulnerable. This time she’s experiencing cancer through the lens of a teenagers mind. She’s more aware this time about how it is affecting her family; her mother, father and younger sister. There’s the financial aspect, the fear in their eyes and the false bravado she can see right through. Alex’s stubborn determination to live her own life is both relatable and perfectly cliché.
Jamie is so well developed I swear I could feel him and smell him through the pages. He’s a believable portrayal of a teenage boy in love. A boy who at times is erratic and over the top and then dimmed and inward. But whatever mood he may be in he is still Jamie Orange.
The is author Eileen Merriman's second YA Novel. Her second to be published within six months of the first! Merriman is a doctor, and mother who also somehow manages to write amazing YA fiction. With sex in!
It's amazing what us Mums can do! #teamjacinda.