It's a huge part of us, all of us, whether we want to admit it or not. And if puberty starts the engines, then being a teen is the foot on the pedal. But which pedal? Gas or brakes? I say both.
Zali is a book in which the characters discuss sex. It may be shocking to some, but I suspect many will see themselves somewhere in the pages. It's not only about sex - it's also about friendship and being true to yourself, but sex is one of the main topics. Which, if you think about it, is quite realistic as sexuality is such a huge part of who and what we are.
Ready or not, teens think about sex. How could they not? Hormones are kicking in. Physical sensations, secretions, and desires are running rampant. Crushes are fogging the brains of 13-year-olds all over the globe and sexual urges are causing all sorts of problems, especially for those who are blindly following them.
Ignorance is not bliss.
Not really. I was one of those ignorant girls who really, really needed some authentic guidance. Not words from a poorly written textbook with labeled diagrams of unrecognizable body parts. Not silence from parents who were too embarrassed or too exhausted or too whatever to speak candidly to their children about what the heck was going on with their bodies...
And it starts early. Last year, I caught a 5th grade boy using his fingers and tongue to mimic cunninlingus to another. He swore he didn't know what it meant. I wasn't so sure. Either way, I suspect he knew it was of a sexual nature and his curiosity was aroused. (And I'm guessing other body parts as well...)
A book for teens
Zali is a book for teens who are wondering about fitting in, making friends, and yes, sex. But no worries, parents! Early sexual experiences are not encouraged in this book! In fact, they are discouraged. Zali's curiosity is such that she wants information, not necessarily "hands-on" experience.
Zail's BFFs are a girl her age (Noj) and boy a year older (Ricky). Ricky is more worldly and knowledgeable about the topic. He also happens to be gay, with parents who wish he were not. Ricky's parents are in denial and although Ricky doesn't flaunt his homosexuality, he doesn't hide it either.
After a first date goes terribly wrong, Zali has more questions than ever and Ricky willingly answers all her (and Noj's) questions with humor and honesty. Ricky is the quirky, witty and candid friend I wish I had at Zali's age.
Inspired by my own experiences
This is true. When I found out I was pregnant, I promised myself that I would speak candidly and truthfully to my child about any topic. Nothing would be off limits. I did not want him to experience the shame I felt around my body and about sexuality. It felt awkward, even bizarre at first, but eventually I got more comfortable with topics around his changing body.
When I started writing Zali I didn't know it would be about sexuality. (One day I'll blog about that... how the story evolves as I write, often even taking me by surprise with details I did not see coming!) I didn't know Zail would start her period. But then I got the idea that her mother and aunt would share their early menstrual experiences and once I got started, the words just flowed - and yes, Ani's story is directly from my own life.
In one of Zali's classes, fellow students talk of a boy who was proud of the erection he got during class (beneath his clothes). One day in one of my 6th grade classes, a boy sitting in the row next to mine "pssst" at me. I looked over and to my shock, he had a huge erection clearly outlined through his pants. I sincerely did not understand what I was seeing and was confused as well as somewhat traumatized. I came from a family of eight and had seen my baby brothers running around bare-naked, but I could not reconcile their little dangling penises with the bulging thickness along this boy's thigh (we called them "weiners" back then - I never heard the word penis until many years later) .
And then Zali's date disaster - me too. Summer before high school. Different details, but similar. My best friend back then and I went to the local beach. Two boys approached us. Eventually, we split up - one boy went with my friend one way while I went another way with the other. We started making out near some bushes, but then he wanted more. I just wanted to continue kissing. He kept grabbing my hand and putting it on his crotch. I kept pulling it away. Then, while still kissing, when he took my hand to his crotch this time, instead of the cloth of his swimsuit, there was his penis. In the flesh. Yikes! I pulled away and said goodbye. Btw, I couldn't find my friend and ended up waiting at our blanket for quite a while (this was before cell phones). We never spoke about our experiences. Not a word.
But I wanted to speak about it. I wanted to talk about sex. I wanted to talk about what I was feeling, thinking, wondering. And I wanted details! But it just wasn't done. It was alluded to. It was joked about. It was given crude names and references - but it just was never openly discussed.
And so Zali is a book I wrote for the 13-year old me. Read it or not. Love it or hate it. Doesn't matter. I mean, I do hope you enjoy reading it. But I definitely enjoyed writing it and that's what really matters to me.
Well, today is the day before New Year's Eve. Here's a Zali-inspired wish for your new year: May this year bring you clarity about all the topics that pique your curiosity, in ways both wonderful and satisfying!
Best to you all.
Deep into my career as an elementary school teacher, I started asking myself if I was still an artist. Can you be an artist if you're not doing any art? Am I a writer if I'm not writing? For me, ARTIST is a verb. Writer too. Do what you love and JOY will come. Maybe money too, but I've discovered without joy, everything else is meaningless.