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Review: 'Touch: A Novel,' follows a girl as she develops into an object

Breasts can be so problematic, especially if you're a teenage girl. First, there's the worry you won't grow any. Then there are the problems once you do. That's the situation in which 14-year-old Maisie Willard finds herself in Touch, the latest young adult novel by National Book Award finalist Francine Prose.

Maisie is flat-chested when she leaves to spend a year in another city with her mom, but she blossoms in the time she is away from the three best friends she has known since preschool — all of them boys — returning just before they enter high school.

The change in Maisie's physique is undeniable, and so is her friends' interest in touching her. While Maisie lets one of them brush his hand against her chest during bus rides to school — incidents she dismisses as accidental — it isn't long before the other two demand the same opportunity.

When a fellow bus rider reports the incident to the school principal, the subject of whether Maisie was touched and whether she allowed it blows up into a lawsuit, as Maisie herself tries to figure out what really happened.

Did she let them touch her? And did she ask them to pay her money? Or did she say no, allowing the boys to fondle her only because her hands were pinned? Like many victims, she honestly can't recall, and she doesn't know whom to trust to help her figure it out.

As prevalent as they are in American culture, breasts are a delicate subject in young adult literature. As much as they're objects of fascination, admiration, curiosity and pride, they're also the cause of despair, confusion, embarrassment and, in the case of Touch, unwanted attention and inappropriate behavior.

Deftly and sensitively, Prose takes all these conflicting, often concurrent, scenarios and wraps them in a fascinating, eloquent tale of truth and consequences — of what happens when one's body becomes a desired if unwittingly sexual object, when the measurements of a female form bring childhood to an emotionally painful end.


By Francine Prose

HarperTeen, 272 pages, $16.99

Review: 'Touch: A Novel,' follows a girl as she develops into an object 08/14/09 [Last modified: Friday, August 14, 2009 5:59pm]
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