Chat With an Author Inspirations and Influences

Jersey Angel: Beth Ann Bauman on YA And The Sexually Unapologetic Girl

Jersey Angel is a Contemporary YA novel that follows the summer adventures of Angel, a young teenage girl who loves sex, who is confident about her body and who enjoys sexual escapades with several partners and is unapologetic about it. The book is a refreshing, beautiful novel that has zero slut shaming in its portrayal of Angel. In addition to that, she is also someone who doesn’t want to go to college and whose dream job is to be a receptionist – again, there is not shaming in the novel about her choice. Needless to say, it is an important book in YA and it is a book that I loved.

jersey angel.pb beth.author photo.2011

The paperback is out now and today we are happy to be hosting its author, Beth Ann Bauman to talk about writing Angel.

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There were several ingredients I threw in the pot early in the writing process of Jersey Angel. I knew I wanted to write about a sexually unapologetic girl, a girl who prowls around like a boy, a girl more interested in adventures than a boyfriend. I also knew I wanted this girl to be a bit Jane Eyre-esque, that is on her own and responsible for herself. I didn’t make her an orphan, neither did I want her to come from a bad home, so I gave her loving but misguided parents, selfishly absorbed in their own dramas. I even gave Angel her own house (in their seaside community, her mom owns three and rents out two in the summer, meaning in the off-season one is available to Angel). And last, I wanted her—a pretty girl who’s coasted through high school on confidence and ease—to grapple with important issues—what it means to love, to lose, to betray, to find her way. I really wanted her to wrestle with the demands of love.

And I plagiarized myself. I’d told a version of this in the title story of my short story collection Beautiful Girls. It’s a story I’ve always loved, one that got away from me a little, one of its own invention, meaning it told me what it wanted to be about. “Make it a novel,” adult readers said to me, and I wanted to, really wanted to, but the problem was that I’d already told the story, and there’s a danger in trying to revisit material that already lives; you might sully the original. I decided there wasn’t anymore to say, or so I thought. It existed as twenty-page short story, and the tale was sure and true, one of my better ones. But the possibility stewed in my brain, I think, because it’s fertile territory and perfect YA material. A girl like Angel doesn’t really exist in teen fiction. Wasn’t I just the person to usher her into the genre? Eventually I figured out a way to reinvent and grow the story, which meant using the skeleton of the girl (in the short story, Dani) and giving her new flesh, turning her into Angel. Not as easy as it sounds—characters are just as capricious as their real life counterparts. It also meant adding new plot twists and moving it to the Jersey Shore, which added a whole new world of details—boats, a marina, sand, skinny dipping. A new story unfolded.

Angel emerged, and I sent her prowling. I also had her missing an old boyfriend, whom she really likes (loves even, though doesn’t know it). She rides over to his window for midnight visits, trying to tempt him back, waiting for him to lift the screen, put his arms around her and haul her inside. Joey, though, is solid and knows who he’s dealing with, and while he really likes her too (loves her even), he’s true to his heart; he wants a commitment. The tragedy of meeting the right boy too soon! Angel’s not ready for him. She’s busy desiring and be desired, feeling her sexual power, its range and glimmering possibilities.

As I said, there isn’t a precedent for this kind of girl character in YA fiction and I knew, though didn’t want to admit, that it might be a bumpy ride for my book. And true enough, not all teen readers know what to think of Angel. We still live in an age where a girl’s sexuality is really only acceptable within the confines of love and romance; while boys can be horndogs and inspire sly smiles, girls who behave this way are sluts. But Angel can’t easily be put in a box. She makes a lot of mistakes, true, some big ones even, but while promiscuous she’s not stupid, mean, or a slut, a derogatory term if ever there was one. We don’t even have an equivalent term for boys because they’re allowed to tomcat around; it’s part of their rite of passage.

I’m glad I wrote this novel. Maybe it matters more to be true to your material than to create a character that will be easily embraced. And maybe Angel has something important to say—Angel who comfortably owns her lust without shame.

About the author: Beth Ann Bauman is an award-winning author of three books—the short story collection Beautiful Girls, and the young adult novels Rosie and Skate and Jersey Angel. She’s been awarded fellowships from the Jerome Foundation and the New York Foundation for the Arts and teaches fiction writing at NYU and UCLA. Bethannbauman.com

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Giveaway Details

Because I loved the book so much, I want to giveaway a copy of the paperback. To enter, use the form below and leave a comment engaging with the post’s ideas. The giveaway is open to EVERYBODY, ANYWHERE and will run until Saturday August 31 12:00AM PST. Good luck!

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27 Comments

  • Lexi
    August 27, 2013 at 12:32 am

    I think it is important for the representation of male and female characters in literature to explore all possibilities for readers. Too many recent and popular YA books do not give the women agency over their own relationships, even when attempting to make it appear like the have some control.

  • Malin
    August 27, 2013 at 2:14 am

    Wow, this sounds really interesting! I would love to win a copy, but will absolutely see if I can find a copy to read, even if I don’t win.

  • cindy
    August 27, 2013 at 3:54 am

    Really interesting ! This book will be on my reading list.

  • Hebe
    August 27, 2013 at 4:03 am

    I definitely think that there is a double standard when it comes to male and female characters, and that it is important to expose this in fiction…after all, what else are books for?

  • Gerd D.
    August 27, 2013 at 6:55 am

    It’s probably because I’m in Europe (or because I never really understood people at all), but I never got either side of that discussion: Neither the people that hunt down the next sexual adventure as if their very life depended on it, nor those that shame girls/women for doing the same a lot of the guys I learned to know (and despise) love to brag about.

    I would disagree that a girl like Angel doesn’t exist in teen-fiction, I can think of several side-characters that struck me as exactly that type, more interested in sexual adventure than in, if you allow for that dirty word, “commitment”.

    Though, you never see them taking center stage, and it might be interesting to get to see the viewpoint of a female horndog, maybe then I understand what’s up with those people. 🙂

  • Gerd D.
    August 27, 2013 at 6:59 am

    Oh, just to add –
    An interesting juxtaposition you’ve created there:
    “Jersey Angel” to “The Bone Season”
    Was that a intended pun?:D

  • Katherine H
    August 27, 2013 at 7:04 am

    It is SO refreshing to have a female main character who isn’t a virgin but isn’t shamed for it. In YA it seems that most girls are either good virgins or bitchy sluts. It’s not like that in real life and it’s great to see someone actually write the truth.

  • Amie Beamer
    August 27, 2013 at 7:56 am

    Wow…I am SO happy I stumbled across this post! Absolutely we need YA books with characters like Angel. I work with high school students and there are many asking for books with strong, sexually active female characters. Needless to say…I’m always stumped. This is an important sub-group of readers needing to be reached. They are looking for the unexpected…the shocking (their word!)…the reality of their world. THANK YOU to the author for taking on a potentially controversial topic and giving us a fantastic book to share with our readers 🙂 Best of luck with your giveaway…and much success to Beth Ann! ~Amie Beamer

  • dana
    August 27, 2013 at 8:30 am

    I liked the post, though i would have liked to hear more about the author inspiration (were there books or films that inspired or negatively inspired)…

  • mary anne
    August 27, 2013 at 9:52 am

    I think I would like to read this book because it would make me examine my on-the-surface vs more subconscious attitude towards women’s sexuality. I suspect many people (myself included) think they are open-minded, tolerant, non-judgmental – at least in concept. But when presented with a character (or a person in real life) who embodies those characteristics or qualities that we are supposedly so “OK” with, what will our knee-jerk gut reaction be? I have found, to my shame, that the traditional teachings I grew up with, and my awareness of society’s likely response, tinge my initial reaction. (To many things: sexual activity, sexual orientation, education, race, appearance.) I want to be better than this. I think books like this can help make it happen.

  • Laura G.
    August 27, 2013 at 9:55 am

    As a Jersey girl and a high school teacher, I can’t wait to read this book. The character is refreshing; I’m so tired of college being the only choice, and confident girls being “slut shamed”. This post has inspired me to try and win a copy and, if not, buy one or look for it at the library.

  • superbwg
    August 27, 2013 at 10:21 am

    Possibly not a popular opinion, but I have to be just a bit leery of any book promoting any sort of promiscuity (male or female) for the teen set without also making sure they know what they are getting into. I think sometimes teens only see the glamour/conquest/desire of sex and are not as aware of possible physical and emotional repercussions that may ensue. That being said I totally understand the high of being desired, and the thrill of the chase, I purposely kept myself unattached during high school and most of collage for that very reason, huge high five to the author for creating a character who can embrace the idea that it is just as acceptable for a female as it is for a male to do the chasing, and the taking the lead, and not necessarily looking for Mr. Right, right away.

  • Anna
    August 27, 2013 at 10:58 am

    Sexual confidence and exploration is definitely not something examined enough for girls in YA literature, and it should be. It’s so important to be able to read about the entire spectrum of attitudes.

  • Paige
    August 27, 2013 at 11:13 am

    I just buzzed through this today, and pretty much loved it! Thanks for the tip!

  • Kaethe
    August 27, 2013 at 1:22 pm

    Oh, I am so in favor of books that are sex-positive. I look forward to reading all your books.

  • Stephanie Burgis
    August 27, 2013 at 2:54 pm

    This book sounds fabulous – and I am so glad to see a book engaging with that really toxic double standard! I still remember how furious I felt as a teenager, listening to a guy in my algebra class explaining very sincerely to one of his female friends that girls who slept around were “sluts”, while guys who slept around were “studs” – and he couldn’t even hear any problem in his words.

  • Ashleigh Paige
    August 27, 2013 at 6:19 pm

    Honestly, I avoided this book when I first heard about it because it sounded like it was cashing in on the Jersey Shore trend. If there was anything I didn’t need, it was that show in book form. But now? Oh yeah, I’m convinced I want this book and will love it.

    I’m fully, unfortunately aware there are very few girls like Angel in YA right now. I could think of a million reasons why: it’s not the type of heroine that is successful, too risky, etc. etc. But what I’m not seeing is a good enough why not. Why can’t we let girls like Angel have their stories told without judgment and make it normal? Because it’s going to upset people’s morals? Bullshit. Like Beth says, guys get away with all this stuff, so it’s quite clearly sexism. Ugh.

    I’m so glad I saw this post because I never would have known what I was missing.

  • Sandy
    August 27, 2013 at 8:02 pm

    The author raises so many good points: it is true that there’s always been that double standard for boys and girls and I have wondered more than once where these attitudes come from. But I’m glad that JERSEY ANGEL exists because we need more books that addresses this topic. I’m echoing others but even if I don’t win this book, I’ll be looking for a copy at the bookstore or my library 🙂

  • Victoria Zumbrum
    August 27, 2013 at 8:46 pm

    This book sounds very interesting. I think alot of girls go through this.

  • JenM
    August 27, 2013 at 8:55 pm

    This sounds awesome. I definitely want to read it. I have to admit that I used to just gloss over slutshaming, but I’m much more aware of it now and it really bothers me. In adult fiction I’ve always preferred stories where the female characters are more sexually experienced and aren’t waiting for the “magic peen” to liberate them from their neuroses. I see no problem with a 17 YO character who owns her sexuality. We need more of those!

  • Kate K.F.
    August 27, 2013 at 9:09 pm

    This sounds like an amazing book and its going on my to read list.

  • erin fender
    August 27, 2013 at 9:23 pm

    sounds fantastic! Thanks for sharing 😉

  • Jamie
    August 27, 2013 at 10:44 pm

    As a girl who wants sex and fun with none of the commitment, I think we desperately need more characters who I and people like me can identify with, and without the shame please!

  • Mary Preston
    August 28, 2013 at 7:55 am

    It’s going to be interesting to see how I take to Angela. There is a double standard.

  • Brenda Chan
    August 28, 2013 at 8:18 am

    This sounds refreshing. The double standard for guys and girls has always made me angry so I’ll probably pick this one up.

  • Susan
    August 28, 2013 at 8:47 pm

    I’m bothered by the sluts vs. studs double standard as well. This book sounds intriguing.

  • Britta B.
    August 29, 2013 at 1:14 pm

    Thank you for writing this book; I am going out to buy it for my 16 year old niece right now. I am also European like Gerd and have always been baffled by the sexual double standard in this country. On one hand females are over sexualized (advertisements, TV shows, movies, cheerleaders, etc.) and on the other otracized for being confident, empowered, sexual beings. I can see in my own life that many – not all – men are actually put off by my being comfortable with my body and self-image – let alone my intelligence – which lead to a confident sexual being. I look like a “dumb blond” (a derogative if there ever was one) but don’t act like one, so people don’t know what drawer to put me in. It’s quite amusing at times.
    Not to say we don’t have double standards in Europe or elsewhere in this world, but since I have lived here for 20 years, this is where my experiences happen.

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