To Read or Not To Read?
By Dani Molloy (she/her)
Can We Talk About Consent?
By Justin Hancock and illustrated by Fuchsia MacAree
Justin Hancock used his experience as a sex and relationships educator to create the multi-chapter guidebook Can We Talk About Consent? The book is targeted at readers aged 15+ and covers a range of topics surrounding consent and agency.
Can We Talk About Consent? also features delightful, brightly coloured illustrations by Irish illustrator Fuchsia MacAree. These illustrations are incorporated with Hancock’s understandable, approachable writing style and definitely make this a book that I wish I’d had access to at 15. Hancock explores the ambiguous concept of consent using a variety of analogies including many comparisons to choosing a pizza, which are matched with adorable illustrations. I enjoyed the explanation of ‘Should Stories’ which Hancock explains are things that are "told to us to make us do what is considered ‘normal’, even if it’s not harmful to do otherwise". Hancock makes the concepts of consent and agency easy to understand through his use of everyday scenarios that young people will recognise. This also shows young people that consent is not a concept that is exclusive to sexual encounters and should be something we’re aware of every day.
While Hancock’s writing style in some parts of this book would probably work better as an informative talk rather than a book, he still manages to write with an authoritative but friendly tone throughout. This book does have a few sections that may feel quite basic to older readers, so I’d recommend reading the chapters you’re interested in, rather than reading it cover-to-cover – especially if you already have experience with the topics of consent, agency and intersectionality and are reading this handbook for pleasure.
Can We Talk About Consent? will be greatly beneficial to the teenagers that read it and is so much more valuable than the "sex = penis + vagina” health books that I was handed as a juvenile. Hancock’s lively guidebook shows a step forward for the sex and relationships education of young teens and also offers information to adults whose own sexual health education consisted of learning how to put on a condom on and being scarred by graphic images of STDs.
For those of us whose health class had little to no conversation about the nuances of consent, this is the book for you.
By Jennifer Niven
Eighteen-year-old Claudine Henry, nicknamed Claude, is counting down the days until graduation and feeling certain that life will always go according to her plan.At the beginning of the novel, Claude’s greatest concern is how she and her best friend, Saz, will maintain their friendship when they go to different universities at the end of summer.
Suddenly, Claude’s world is turned upside down when she finds out that her parents are separating. Furthermore, Claude’s mother wants to spend the summer at her family home on a remote island off the coast of Georgia – and she expects Claude to go with her. On the island, Claude meets Jeremiah Crew; a mysterious teenage boy who helps her embrace her new life and discover her authentic self.
The plot of Breathless is cliché but still enjoyable. Niven writes Claude’s perspective with a compelling teenage voice and the dialogue between characters is both realistic and entertaining. I especially appreciated the banter between Claude and Jeremiah as they’re first getting to know each other.
One of the highlights of Breathless is the characterisation. All of the characters in this text feel well-developed and have their fair share of flaws. Claude, as a teenage girl, falls victim to thinking that the whole world revolves around her and Jeremiah, as a teenage boy, sometimes forgets that he doesn’t always know everything.
One of the downsides of the novel is that while the beginning and ending of the novel are strong, the story falls flat around the middle. There’s only so many things characters can do on a remote island for thirty-five days and the middle of the story ends up feeling routine and repetitive to read – like watching a YouTuber’s fifth morning routine video of the year.
Breathless successfully provides a nuanced discussion on female sexual pleasure, virginity and consent that readers can aspire to replicate in their own relationships. One questionable element of the novel is Claude and Saz’s continuous slut-shaming of their friend Alannis. This behaviour felt out-of-place in what was otherwise a very sex-positive novel and is left unaddressed by Claude at the end of the novel.Nevertheless, I’d still recommend Breathless as a light-hearted summer read or an easy story to immerse yourself in throughout the busy semester. Breathless will leave you with a nostalgic longing for your first love and might even make you consider running away to an island forever (if the influx of assessments hasn’t already convinced you to do so).