Review: Summer Skin

20 January 2016

Reading Kirsty Eager’s Summer Skin is like having a drunken conversation with another girl in the bathroom of a nightclub. You compliment each other’s clothes, complain about the man-pigs outside and identify yourselves as feminists. Then, before you notice how long you’ve spent in there, you go your separate ways, both feeling a little better than you did before.

Summer Skin is that and so much more. It’s the frank and honest discussion of sex, love and feminism that young women deserve. It reflects on modern day hook-up culture and the pressure that young women experience from existing in a society that equally demands and condemns their sexual activity. It’s sex-positive without ignoring the damage that sex and sexual assault can do.

Despite its, at times, over-simplified, white feminist perspective, Summer Skin offers a narrative that openly criticises a culture of slut-shaming by a self-described ‘modern-day riot grrrl’. t’s as humorous as it is moving, seamlessly weaving in dick jokes and Aussie hip-hop references. Its narrative dabbles in student politics like a first year doing international studies.

It all begins with a girl stealing a boy’s stuff and then partially burning it. It’s a promising start. Summer Skin establishes itself as a feminist narrative almost immediately. And it’s hot. As in, so many people are going to get laid because of this book. Jess is completely open about her own sexual desire in a way that is both confronting and relatable. The girls engage in relationships, they fuck, a pink glittery vibrator shows up more than once.

Most importantly, Summer Skin exposes male entitlement in upper-middle class sandstone institutions. It explores how this impacts sexual behavior and how it results in the harm and exploitation of young women. This particular narrative we’ve read many times in news stories detailing the rape culture that exists in universities and colleges.

The competition that results in the shaming of Jess’ best friend in the novel mirrors experiences that are all too real for young women. Private photos and videos are shared, women are shamed online for engaging in sexual behaviour, women are blamed for sexual assaults for their clothing or alcohol consumption. Summer Skin refuses to tolerate the idea that these women are in any way responsible for their own assaults and forcefully depicts them as brave and strong survivors.

However, as far as feminist literature goes, Summer Skin is lacking in complexity and intersectionality. The novel’s primary cast of all-white, all-straight characters fails to represent my own university experiences. It cannot go ignored that the novel is lacking in POC and queer characters. Without this representation, I’m not sure that I can credit this novel as a feminist love story.

While this novel contains a positive feminist message and an in-depth exploration of slut shaming, it fails to address many key feminist issues, particularly the underrepresentation of women of colour, sex workers and trans women in feminist discourse. It is imperative that feminist young adult books are as diverse as their young female readers.

Despite this, Summer Skin is worth reading. The story is engaging and entertaining and would make a great addition to anyone’s beach bag this summer. However, do not read the book with the expectation of an intersectional feminist love story because this, it is not.

Book provided by Allen & Unwin

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