Tuesday, September 15, 2015

The Bursting Sexuality of Teenage Girls

Religion plays a large part in the The Unraveling of Mercy Louis by Keija Parssinen. The book opens on the last day of school, the end of Mercy’s junior year in high school. A star basketball player, she’s recovering from her team’s loss of a state championship and her loss of the collegiate scholarships that victory would have secured for her.

On the verge of womanhood, Mercy is dominated by her pious grandmother. However, the core of Mercy’s identity is shaped by the absence of her mother. As the story progresses, Mercy’s Charmaine-shaped hole undermines the framework of her accomplishments, much-like a sinkhole might collapse the stilts of a house built to withstand future floods.

The novel is set in the small town of Port Sabine, TX, Janis Joplin’s birthplace. It’s a great choice for a story about the physical, psychological, and spiritual constraints of a city with little more than a Sonic to showcase the bursting sexuality of its teenage girls.

A dead baby discovered in a dumpster early on galvanizes accusations, shame, suspicion and political ambition.

The lens is a sharp one. Sex is forbidden, a young woman’s body to be saved for the marriage bed, sealed with vows of chastity made at purity balls. There’s no middle ground, no room for reality or humanity to seep in. The whole story drives home the difficulty of those years when hormones rule flesh awakening to desire; and hearts yearn for love beyond the confines of the parental home. Tricky ones, those years. The space between what actually happens and "what is purported as ideal” creates a gulf so wide nothing constructed by human hands could bridge it.

Mercy’s slide into the uncharted abyss every teenage girl must navigate is harrowing, moving, touching, and penetrating, as her grandmother’s spiritual knife becomes ruthless and attempts to sever all that is life-giving at the roots.