Keith Gray (editor)
(Andersen Press)

Losing It. Your virginity. When, how and with whom is what most (all!) teenagers obssess about, constantly, until they have done it. Twenty years ago, we talked about it a lot, but not many acted on it until a little bit later. These days, things have changed and this collection of short stories edited by Keith Gray tackles full on this colossal milestone in a young adult’s life. Keith Gray invited some of the most leading voices in today’s teen writing to contribute: Melvin Burgess, Anne Fine, Mary Hooper, Sophie McKenzie, Patrick Ness, Bali Rai and Jenny Valentine. Each brings their own style and a diverse approach to the subject. Mary Hooper offers us another fantastic and yet heartbreaking insight into the life of poverty-stricken inhabitants of Victorian London. Jenny Valentine manages to bring her signature quirkiness and originality into the mix by focussing her story on a wacky old relative making everybody choke on their Sunday roast when she starts making inappropriate comments at the table. Bali Rai brings us a heart-wrenching story about the meaning and preconceptions of female virginity in Pakistan. And so it goes on. My favourite however remains Patrick Ness’ Different for Boys. The writing is, of course, flawless and Ness has used a very clever trick by blacking out all the rude bits (you can spend quite a lot of time trying to guess what rude words could possibly be beneath the black boxes, which no doubt the targeted audience will rather enjoy!). I found his story about a young gay football player particularly moving.
The diversity of these stories is what makes the strength of this anthology; hopefully each reader will be able to take whatever they want from it, whether they think that is ok to do it, or it is ok to wait. It might also go a long way in reassuring teenagers that their behaviour isn’t that unusual (Burgess’s character in Chat-Up Lines for example will shamelessly stop at nothing to get his way with his young lady, regardless of whom he might hurt, and this might ring true to quite a few boys!).
I hope every secondary school library will buy a copy of this book. This is the kind of book that teenagers need to read. And whatever it is they take from it, I hope that the last paragraph from the last story, written by Anne Fine about a teacher delivering a sex education class, will be the one that sticks:

… ‘Miguel-Angel claims that when he finally falls in love, it’s going to be forever’.
She laughs. But I can’t help thinking of me and Geoffrey. So I hope Miguel-Angel’s right.
Because, if you want my opinion, losing it couln’t be less important. I am serious.
It’s finding it that matters. That’s what counts.