My rating: 4 of 5 stars
It’s taken me a while to figure out how to review this. Much of my thoughts find themselves settling on the cover, which I love. I do, genuinely, love this brilliant and blunt cover. It is unabashed and unashamed which befits the topic immensely. Language has an immediacy, a wonderfully sharp immediacy, because once you understand it, you understand everything. Our conceptualisation of the word differs as to our own personal circumstances but, say, if you read the word ‘table’ and have an imaginative link to the idea of ‘table’, you understand that word. And we all understand ‘virgin’, really, especially in the young adult market which so often touches on this issue.
And yet, in coming from a library context and as a librarian, I wonder how this cover would fit and work in such a space. It is not that I am asking for this cover to be redacted, nor edited nor hidden, because that stands against all I have ever understood and believed in. Rather, I’m wondering how it fits in that space and whether it would, easily, live and thrive. (Books live in libraries, trust me on that, and some jostle their way to the front and others are hidden behind others and some barely even return to the shelves, and there is a lifeblood and system here that I will write upon some other day, I promise).
As a gatekeeper both virtually and within the real world, I work to make sure that books get read, that they get out there, and they get to the right reader, and I hope this does. I really hope it gets out there and it gets displayed face out, and people are ready to answer the queries of customers with the point that this story, this slim and bare-boned and blunt story, is something very vital indeed. Maybe that’s why this cover startles me and yet I love it; it’s a rare thing, and yet change has to come from somewhere. Something has to begin it.
Cassidy’s prose is direct and bare. It’s simple, at times, and that’s a sign of trust in the story and the way it needs to be told. Stacey Woods, the narrator, was raped. Following her confession to her best friend, she writes it down and retells the story, exactly as it happened. And what follows is a twist on the Cinderella story; a rags to riches to tense, horrible moments and back again. It’s sympathetic, genuine, and very very tautly told. There were a few moments when the prose danced around, but contextually this worked immensely well. It’s not an easy story to tell and Stacey embraces the distraction before slowly, tentatively telling her story. Of finding out what’s left of her. Of finding out where to go next and what to do.
For me, it read a little bit younger than work by Louise O’Neill, though it certainly stands with such books. No Virgin is important, really, because of the still dominant absence of such narratives and it’s one that I’d rather love to be read by all sexes. It’s slender, incisive, painful, and sharp. Unabashedly so.
And here’s the thing, that even amidst all my reflection about the role of that cover and the position of that book within the library system, that’s where I found it. And that cover is why I picked it up. It’s not a reach to suggest that the same thought process might happen in another library, with another reader, and that this book might change everything for them. This is important literature, and even though it’s maybe isolated and different literature, these are the sorts of books that form the bones of why libraries matter. Stand up for these books, stand up.