Book Review - Into the Wild Nerd Yonder

Talking About Teen Oral Sex

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It's not uncommon to find young adult novels that deal with pregnancy scares. However, I was surprised when, a few chapters into Into The Wild Nerd Yonder, I realized it was going to tackle the issue of teens and oral sex.

Into the Wild Nerd Yonder is the story of Jessie. Jessie a sophomore in High School who is trying to figure out her place in teenage society. She's smart, but she also considers herself to be reasonably cool.

In part, this is thanks to her closeness with her fabulous punk rock brother Barrett. She also has two lifelong friends - Bizza and Char - who Jessie feels help her coolness factor. However, her brother clearly isn't so sure. Jessie herself begins to have doubts when, at the start of the school year, the two girls suddenly go punk themselves. They start smoking and only seem to have time for her when they want to ogle Barrett's friends.

One of those friends is the dreamy drummer of his band, Van. Jessie has had a crush on him for years - even though she knows that he's a player and is horrible to the women he dates. Still, everyone knows how she feels about him. That is why it's so hard on her when Bizza suddenly starts chasing him in a serious way.

Bizza's moment of true betrayal happens at a party at Van's house. She shows up very scantily and unattractively dressed in the hope of getting his attention.

Then  she drags him upstairs and "blows him" in order to try and win his affection. Proud of her actions, she immediately brags about them to Jessie and Char. Jessie is well and truly fed up. She leaves the party, calls her brother and his new girlfriend Chloe for a ride, and starts to reevaluate her priorities.

When Jessie tells Barrett and Chloe what happened, Chloe instantly wins her respect by explaining:

You should ask her what she got out of it. It's one thing to have oral sex with someone you know and trust, but now every girl thinks the way to popularity is through blow jobs....If a guy is only going to like you because you're the girl who says yes to putting his dick in your mouth, then forget him

That was when the book started to really win my heart. What Chloe said was exactly what I wish all teenagers knew. All giving a guy a blowjob does is make him temporarily happy. It doesn't guarantee you his heart. (That's something Bizza learns when Van won't even look at her after the party.) Then the book made me even happier by giving Bizza oral gonorrhea. That's one of the risks of unprotected oral sex.

Julie Halpern does a great job of showing teens what it can be like to get an STD. Bizza has to visit the free clinic for a diagnosis. She won't tell her mom or her family doctor the likely cause of her sore throat. She's scared and feeling deserted. Yet, when she finds out that she just needs to take antibiotics, she tries to shrug the whole thing off. Jessie finally snaps.

"They think I'm right about the gonorrhea, but it was so nothing. There were no needles. It was like a swab, sort of like a strep test. And the nurse said I'll probably only have to go on antibiotics, so no shot or anything. I have to wait to see a doctor still, but isn't that great?"

Shocked pause.

Deep breath.


"Great? What the frick is so great about this? You sucked a guy off --a guy
I liked -- who won't even talk to you any more. He gave you a sexually transmitted disease because you were too friggin' 'in the moment' to use a condom..."

Interestingly, Jessie also learns through Chloe that Van has infected other girls with gonorrhea. It's a subject of gossip. However, no one has told him to get treated or warned his potential partners. That's something that teens need to learn from. I get a lot of letters from young people who seem to assume that someone would warn them if the person they were planning on hooking up with "had something". That simply isn't true. STDs may be a subject of gossip, but very few people would feel comfortable actually sharing that gossip with a person who might be at risk. Why? In the end, it is only gossip.

It's also a good reminder that even if a boy or a girl has infected a number of partners with an STD, it's possible that no one will have ever told them they have it.

At this point, I should mention that the oral gonorrhea plot is only a relatively minor point. The book is really about judging people for who they are, not how they might be labeled. In this review, I focused on the STD issues described in Into the Wild Nerd Yonder. However, the real genius of the book is in the way it shows how hard it is for teenagers to do what they want to do, and hang out with the people they really like, when they're afraid that doing so will lead to their being labeled as a "nerd" or something else unfortunate.

Being cool is very important to a lot of teens. Julie Halpern does a great job of showing them that popularity isn't all it's cracked up to be. It reminds teens that when they're doing things they don't want to do just to impress people who have done nothing to deserve their respect... it's probably time to find some new friends. Into the Wild Nerd Yonder shows teens that being happy, and risking being labeled a nerd, is a lot more satisfying than being miserable in the hopes of being considered cool.

What the book got right

  • It correctly identified the symptoms of oral gonorrhea.
  • It brought up the fact that teens with a possible STD might not want to visit the family doctor.
  • It showed that it's possible to not realize you have gonorrhea while spreading it to a number of sexual partners.
  • It mentioned using condoms for oral sex in order to make fellatio safer.
  • It provided a good explanation for why some teenage girls decide to engage in oral sex even when they don't particularly want to. They think it will improve their social standing.
  • It explored the problems with the attitude that if you can cure an STD with antibiotics, it isn't a big deal.
  • It talked about the fact that people may not always bother to inform their previous sexual partners after they've been diagnosed with an STD. Not only were Jessie and Barrett worried that Van wouldn't talk to the girls he'd slept with, but at least one girl had already been infected with gonorrhea by Van and not told him

What the book got wrong

  • Nothing that I noticed.

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