Towelhead

Towelhead

by Alicia Erian

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Overview

NOW A MAJOR MOTION PICTURE FROM WARNER INDEPENDENT PICTURES WRITTEN FOR THE SCREEN AND DIRECTED BY ALAN BALL (SIX FEET UNDER, AMERICAN BEAUTY, TRUE BLOOD) AND STARRING AARON ECKHART, TONI COLLETTE, MARIA BELLO, PETER MACDISSI, AND SUMMER BISHIL

IT IS AUGUST 1990. Saddam Hussein has just invaded Kuwait, and Jasira's mother has bought her daughter a one-way ticket to texas to live with her strict Lebanese father. Living in a neat model home in Charming Gates, just outside Houston, Jasira struggles with her father's rigid lifestyle and the racism of her classmates, who call her "towelhead." For the first time, the painful truth hits her: she's an Arab. Her aching loneliness and growing frustration with her parents' conflicting rules drive her to rebel in very dangerous ways. Most disturbingly, she becomes sexually obsessed with the bigoted army reservist next door, who alternately cares for, excites, and exploits her.

"Erain's gift for conjuring characters is so strong; she has a sophisticated take on people and charts with real precision how and why the human comedy becomes seriously unfunny." —JEFF GILES, The New York Times Book Review

"War, statutory rape, child abuse, and racism are hardly the stuff of comedy, but in Towelhead, Alicia Erain succeeds in blending this weird and sometimes shocking mix of elements in a funny, poignant, and utterly readable first novel." —SUSAN COIL, The Washington Post

ALICIA ERAIN's work has appeared in Playboy, Zoetrope, Nerve, The Iowa Review, The New York Times Magazine, Penthouse, and other publications. She is the author of The Brutal Language of Love, a short story collection. This is her first novel.

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9780743285124
Publisher: Simon & Schuster
Publication date: 04/04/2006
Edition description: Reprint
Pages: 336
Sales rank: 836,164
Product dimensions: 5.50(w) x 8.43(h) x 0.90(d)

About the Author

Alicia Erian is the author of a short story collection, The Brutal Language of Love. Her work has appeared in Playboy, Zoetrope, Nerve, The Iowa Review, and other publications. This is her first novel.

Read an Excerpt

1.

My mother's boyfriend got a crush on me, so she sent me to live with Daddy. I didn't want to live with Daddy. He had a weird accent and came from Lebanon. My mother met him in college, then they got married and had me, then they got divorced when I was five. My mother told me it was because my father was cheap and bossy. When my parents got divorced, I wasn't upset. I had a memory of Daddy slapping my mother, and then of my mother taking off his glasses and grinding them into the floor with her shoe. I don't know what they were fighting about, but I was glad that he couldn't see anymore.

I still had to visit him for a month every summer, and I got depressed about that. Then, when it was time to go home again, I got happy. It was just too tense, being with Daddy. He wanted everything done in a certain way that only he knew about. I was afraid to move half the time. Once I spilled some juice on one of his foreign rugs, and he told me that I would never find a husband.

My mother knew how I felt about Daddy, but she sent me to live with him anyway. She was just so mad about her boyfriend liking me. I told her not to worry, that I didn't like Barry back, but she said that wasn't the point. She said I was always walking around with my boobs sticking out, and that it was hard for Barry not to notice. That really hurt my feelings, since I couldn't help what my boobs looked like. I'd never asked for Barry to notice me. I was only thirteen. At the airport, I wondered what my mother was so worried about. I could never have stolen Barry away from her, even if I'd tried. She was 100% Irish. She had high cheekbones and a cute round ball at the end of her nose. When she put concealer under her eyes, they looked all bright and lit up. I could've brushed her shiny brown hair for hours, if only she had let me.

When they announced my flight, I started to cry. My mother said it wasn't that bad, then pushed me in my back a little, so I would walk onto the plane. A stewardess helped me find my seat, since I was still crying, and a man beside me held my hand during takeoff. He probably thought I was scared to fly, but I wasn't. I really and truly hoped we would crash.

Daddy met me at the airport in Houston. He was tall and clean-shaven and combed his wavy, thinning hair to one side. Ever since my mother had ground up his glasses, he'd started wearing contacts. He shook my hand, which he'd never done before. I said, "Aren't you going to hug me?" and he said, "This is how we do it in my country." Then he started walking really fast through the airport, so I could barely keep up.

As I waited with Daddy at the baggage claim, I felt like I didn't have a family anymore. He didn't look at me or talk to me. We both just watched for my suitcase. When it came, Daddy lifted it off the conveyor belt, then set it down so I could pull it. It had wheels and a handle, but it fell over if you walked too fast. When I slowed down, though, Daddy ended up getting too far ahead of me. Finally he picked it up and carried it himself.

It was a long drive back to Daddy's apartment, and I tried not to notice all the billboards for gentlemen's clubs along the way. It was embarrassing, those women with their breasts hanging out. I wondered if that was how I had looked with Barry. Daddy didn't say anything about the billboards, which made them even more embarrassing. I started to feel like they were all my fault. Like anything awful and dirty was my fault. My mother hadn't told Daddy about Barry and me, but she had told him that she thought I was growing up too fast, and would probably benefit from a stricter upbringing.

That night, I slept on a fold-out chair in my father's office. There was a sheet on it, but it kept slipping off, and the vinyl upholstery stuck to my skin. In the morning, my father stood in the doorway and whistled like a bird so I would wake up. I went to the breakfast table in my T-shirt and underwear, and he slapped me and told me to go put on proper clothes. It was the first time anyone had ever slapped me, and I started to cry. "Why did you do that?" I asked him, and he said things were going to be different from now on.

I got back into bed and cried some more. I wanted to go home, and it was only the second day. Soon my father came to the doorway and said, "Okay, I forgive you, now get up." I looked at him and wondered what he was forgiving me for. I thought about asking, but somehow it didn't seem smart.

That day, we went looking for a new house. Daddy said he was making a good salary at NASA, and besides, the schools were better in the suburbs. I didn't want to go back on the highway because of all the billboards, but I was afraid to say no. Then it turned out that the billboards on the way to the suburbs were for new homes and housing developments. The prices started at $150,000 -- almost three times as much as my mother had paid for our townhouse back in Syracuse. She was a middle school teacher so she couldn't afford very much.

Daddy listened to NPR while I watched the road out the window. Houston seemed like the end of the world to me. The last place you would ever want to live. It was hot and humid and the water from the tap tasted like sand. The one thing I liked about Daddy was that he kept the air-conditioning at seventy-six. He said that everyone he knew thought he was crazy, but he didn't care. He loved walking into his apartment and saying, "Ahh!"

Some news about Iraq came on, and Daddy turned up the volume. They had just invaded Kuwait. "Fucking Saddam," Daddy said, and I relaxed a little that he would swear.

We went to a housing development called Charming Gates and looked at the model home. A realtor named Mrs. Van Dyke gave us the tour, which ended in the kitchen, where she offered Daddy a cup of coffee. She talked a lot about the beauty of the home, its reasonable price, the school district and safety. Daddy tried to bargain with her, and she said that wasn't really done. She said if he were buying an older home, that sort of thing would be fine, but that new homes had fixed prices. Back in the car, he made fun of her southern accent, which sounded even funnier with his own accent mixed in.

For dinner, we had thin crust pizza at a place called Panjo's. Daddy said it was his favorite and that he ate there a lot. He said the last time he'd been there, he'd come with a woman from work, on a date. He said he'd liked her quite a bit until she took out a cigarette. Then he realized she was stupid. I thought she was stupid, too, not because she smoked, but because she'd gone on a date with Daddy.

That night, on the vinyl bed, I thought about my future. I imagined it as day after day of misery. I decided nothing good would ever happen to me, and I began to fantasize about Barry. I fantasized that he would come and rescue me from my father, then we would move back to Syracuse, only without telling my mother. We would live in a house on the other side of town, and I could wear whatever I wanted to the breakfast table.

In the morning, Barry hadn't arrived yet. It was just my father, standing in the doorway and whistling like a bird. "I don't really like that," I said, and he laughed and did it again.

That day, we went to see more model homes. And more over the weekend. On Sunday night, Daddy asked me which one I liked best, and I picked the cheapest one, in Charming Gates. He said he agreed, and a few weeks later we moved in. It was a nice place with four bedrooms -- one for Daddy, one for me, one for an office and one for a guest room. Daddy and I each had our own bathrooms. The name of my wallpaper was adobe, since it looked like all these little earthen houses, and my sink and counter top were cream with gold glitter trapped underneath. It was my responsibility to keep my bathroom clean, and Daddy bought me a can of Comet for under the sink. Daddy's bathroom was twice the size of mine. It connected to his room, and had two sinks, plus a walk-in closet with one rack on top of the other, just like at the dry cleaners. Some of his suits were even in dry cleaner bags. His toilet was in a little room with its own separate door, and right away, after we moved in, it started to smell like pee. He didn't have a bathtub like I did, but he had a shower stall with a door that made a loud click when you shut it.

There were formal and informal living rooms, as well as a formal dining room and a breakfast nook. We started using everything for what it was named for. Breakfast in the breakfast nook, dinner in the dining room, TV in the informal living room (which also had the fireplace), and guests in the formal living room at the front of the house.

Our first guests were the next door neighbors, Mr. and Mrs. Vuoso and their ten year-old son Zack. They came over with a pie Mrs. Vuoso had baked. Daddy invited them to sit down on his brown velvet couch, then brought them all hot tea, even though they hadn't asked for it. "Oh my," Mrs. Vuoso said, "tea in a glass."

"This is how we serve it in my country," Daddy said.

Mrs. Vuoso asked him what country that was, and Daddy told her.

"Imagine that," she commented, and Daddy nodded.

"You must have some interesting opinions on the situation over there," Mr. Vuoso said. He was a very clean looking man, with short, glossy brown hair and a black T-shirt. He wore jeans that looked ironed, and had very big arm muscles. The biggest I'd ever seen. They got in the way of his arms lying flat at his side. "I certainly do," Daddy said. "Maybe I'd like to hear them sometime," Mr. Vuoso said, only it sounded like he didn't really want to hear them at all.

"Not today," Mrs. Vuoso warned. "No politics today." She wore a tan skirt and flat shoes. Her face was young, but her short hair was totally gray. I had to keep reminding myself that she was Mr. Vuoso's wife, and not his mother.

"Do you know how to play badminton?" Zack asked me. He sat between his parents on the couch, his legs sticking straight out in front of him. He looked a little like his father, with short brown hair and neat jeans.

"Sort of," I said.

"Do you want to play now?" he asked.

"Okay," I said, even though I didn't. I was more interested in staying with the grown-ups. I kept wondering if Mr. Vuoso was going to beat up Daddy. The Vuosos had a badminton net in their backyard, and Zack kept hitting the birdie into my boobs and laughing. "Cut it out," I finally told him.

"I'm just hitting it," he said. "I can't help where it lands."

I let him do it a few more times, then I quit.

"Want to do something else?" he asked. "No thanks," I said, walking to his side of the net and handing him the racquet.

We went back to my house, where the Vuosos were just getting ready to leave. "Who won?" Mr. Vuoso asked.

"I did," Zack said. "She quit."

"We don't say she when the person is right beside us," Mrs. Vuoso said.

"I don't remember her name," Zack said.

"Jasira," Mr. Vuoso said. "Her name is Jasira." He smiled at me then, and I didn't know what to do.

After they left, Daddy told me that Mr. Vuoso was a reservist, which meant he was in the Army on the weekends. "This guy is something else," Daddy said, shaking his head. "He thinks I love Saddam. It's an insult."

"Did you tell him you don't?" I asked.

"I told him nothing," Daddy said. "Who is he to me?"

There was a pool in Charming Gates, and Daddy felt strongly that we should be using it. He said he wasn't paying all of this money just so I could sit around in the air conditioning. I told him I didn't want to go, but when he asked me why, I was too embarrassed to say. It was my pubic hair. There was getting to be more and more of it, and some of it came out the legs of my bathing suit. I'd begged my mother to teach me how to shave, but she said no, that once you started, there was no stopping. I cried about this all the time, and my mother told me to can it. I told her that the girls in gym class called me Chewbacca, and she said she didn't know who that was. Barry said he knew who it was and that it wasn't very nice, but my mother told him that since he didn't have any kids of his own, he could go ahead and butt out.

Then one night, when my mother had parent/teacher conferences, Barry called me into the bathroom. He was standing there in his sweats and a T-shirt, holding a razor and a can of shaving cream. "Put your bathing suit on," he said. "Let's figure out how to do this." So I put my bathing suit on and stood in the tub, and he shaved my pubic hair. "How's that?" he asked when he was finished, and I said it looked good. When it came time to shave again, Barry asked if I remembered how to do it, or if I needed him to show me one more time. I told him I needed him to show me, even though I did remember. It just felt nice to stand there and have him do such a dangerous and careful thing to me. My mother would never have found out except that after a while, the tub got clogged. She called the plumber, and when he used his snake, all that came up were my black curly hairs. "That happens sometimes," he said. "It ain't always the hair on your head." Then he charged my mother $100 to pour some Liquid-Plumr down the drain.

"Take off your pants," she said when he left, and I did. There was no use fighting her.

"Did I tell you you could shave?" she asked. "Did I?"

"No," I said. "Get me the razor," she said, and I told her I didn't have one, that I'd snuck and used Barry's. When he came home, she made me apologize to him for taking his property without asking. "That's okay," he said, and my mother grounded me for a month.

Then, a week later, Barry broke down and told her the truth. That he had shaved me himself. That he had been shaving me for weeks. That he couldn't seem to stop shaving me. He said the whole thing was his fault, but my mother blamed me. She said if I hadn't always been talking about my pubic hair, this would never have happened. She said that when Barry had first offered to shave me, I should've said no. She said there were right and wrong ways to act around men, and for me to learn which was which, I should probably go and live with one. Finally Daddy forced me to go swimming. I figured he would probably like all my pubic hair, since it made me look ugly. But then, when we got to the pool and I took my shorts off, he said, "This bathing suit doesn't even cover you."

"Yes, it does," I said, looking down at the low-cut legs.

"No, it doesn't," he said. "You're falling out of it. Put your shorts back on immediately."

I put my shorts back on and sat on my towel, watching Daddy swim laps back and forth in the single lane that had been roped off for adults. Once, a little kid got confused and drifted under the lane divider, and Daddy had to stop in mid-stroke. I thought he would probably yell at the kid, but he just smiled and waited for him to get out of the way. I saw then that everything would be fine between me and Daddy if only we were strangers.

Reading Group Guide

Towelhead A Novel: Alicia Erian Discussion Guide
1. Why does Jasira's mother send her to live with her father? Does her mother feel threatened by Jasira's budding sexuality? Do you think this is common between mothers and daughters? Why does her mother stay with her boyfriend after she finds out about his inappropriate behavior with Jasira?
2. Discuss the ways Jasira's life with her father changes from living with her mother. Is Jasira's father's corporeal punishment appropriate for a 13-year-old? Is corporeal punishment appropriate for children of any age? How much of Jasira's father's punishment style is due to cultural differences? At what point does her father's physical punishment cross over into abuse?
4. As Towelhead unfolds, the Gulf War begins. The characters hold a wide range of opinions about the war. Compare Jasira's father, Mr. Vuoso, and Melina's views about U.S. involvement in the Gulf War. Are the children's opinions (Jasira, Thomas, Zack, and Denise) about the war revealed? How did the people around you react to U.S. involvement in the Gulf War? Was it different from their opinions about the more recent U.S. involvement in war in the Mideast? If yes, how?
5. How does Jasira handle the racism she experiences at school, from her neighbor Zack, and her father and mother when she dates an African-American? Should she have handled it any differently? Compare how she and her boyfriend Thomas react to racism. Why or why not are you surprised by Jasira's father's racism toward Thomas, given that he has experienced racism too? What are the best ways to handle overt (i.e., name-calling) and covert (i.e., nasty looks or aversive behavior) racism? Do you think racism against Arab-Americans will continue to increase?
6. Jasira allows her mother's boyfriend Barry and her neighbor Mr. Vuoso to touch her sexually. She does not seem to think that these grown men's sexual advances are inappropriate. Why do you think this is? What do we know about Jasira's emotional health before and after she moves to Texas?
7. Jasira and Thomas are both 13 years old. Do you think their level of sexual knowledge and activity is "normal" in the United States? How should parents or authority figures handle the subject of teenage sex?
8. Even in the best of circumstances, every parent makes mistakes with their children. Are Jasira's parents "good" parents? Why or why not?
9. Mr. Vuoso gives Jasira a Playboy magazine when he discovers her looking at it. What does this gift reveal about him? Mr. Vuoso has a large collection of Playboy magazines. Do you think his taste for pornography made him prone to rationalizing his behavior with Jasira? Or did he understand what he was doing? Was Mr. Vuoso a child molester, a rapist, or neither? Was his punishment appropriate for what he did?
10. Jasira becomes aroused while looking at the naked women in Playboy. Does this indicate that she may be a lesbian or bisexual? Why or why not?
11. How does Jasira's father's discovery of the Playboy in her room change Jasira's life? What would her life have been like had he not discovered the Playboy?
12. What role does Melina play in Jasira's life? Jasira doesn't feel happy about Melina's pregnancy, and in fact, resents the forthcoming new baby. Why does she feel this way? How does she feel about the baby at the end of the book?
13. Toward the end of Towelhead, Jasira's father and Melina become friends, albeit wary ones. What causes them to bond? Will their friendship last?
14. Though Towelhead primarily focuses on the personal lives of its characters, it also reveals the political climate of 1991. Discuss some of the specific behaviors (i.e., the proliferation of American flags) and feelings about the Mideast that have changed in the United States since then.
Enhance Your Book Club: Tips to Make Towelhead Come to Life
1. Food plays a major role in defining culture in Towelhead. Go to a Middle Eastern restaurant or serve Middle Eastern foods such as hummus, baba ghanouj, or baklava to bring more "flavor" to your book club meeting.
2. Make a compilation CD or tape of the top pop songs from 1991 to help set the mood musically for your gathering. Make extra copies so each attendee can take one home with them. The entire group could also dress as teenagers from 1991, i.e., wear acid-washed jeans or create the "big hair" looks of that era.
3. Jasira, her father Rifat, Melina, and Mr. Vuoso are all distinctive characters. Assign a character to each member of the book group to bring an item of clothing or object that captures the "essence" of who that character is. For example, for Mr. Vuoso, someone could bring a flag; for Melina, someone could wear a maternity blouse.
4. With relations between the Arab and Western worlds still precarious, a proliferation of racial or religious persecution examples are still occurring with regularity. Have each member bring in articles of recent instances and suggest ways or steps that could be taken in which the conflicts could be solved. You could also provide information on how to handle instances of intolerance and prejudice by buying a book on this topic or searching the Internet for guidelines.

Introduction

Towelhead A Novel: Alicia Erian Discussion Guide

1. Why does Jasira's mother send her to live with her father? Does her mother feel threatened by Jasira's budding sexuality? Do you think this is common between mothers and daughters? Why does her mother stay with her boyfriend after she finds out about his inappropriate behavior with Jasira?

2. Discuss the ways Jasira's life with her father changes from living with her mother. Is Jasira's father's corporeal punishment appropriate for a 13-year-old? Is corporeal punishment appropriate for children of any age? How much of Jasira's father's punishment style is due to cultural differences? At what point does her father's physical punishment cross over into abuse?

4. As Towelhead unfolds, the Gulf War begins. The characters hold a wide range of opinions about the war. Compare Jasira's father, Mr. Vuoso, and Melina's views about U.S. involvement in the Gulf War. Are the children's opinions (Jasira, Thomas, Zack, and Denise) about the war revealed? How did the people around you react to U.S. involvement in the Gulf War? Was it different from their opinions about the more recent U.S. involvement in war in the Mideast? If yes, how?

5. How does Jasira handle the racism she experiences at school, from her neighbor Zack, and her father and mother when she dates an African-American? Should she have handled it any differently? Compare how she and her boyfriend Thomas react to racism. Why or why not are you surprised by Jasira's father's racism toward Thomas, given that he has experienced racism too? What are the best ways to handle overt (i.e., name-calling) and covert (i.e., nasty looks or aversive behavior)racism? Do you think racism against Arab-Americans will continue to increase?

6. Jasira allows her mother's boyfriend Barry and her neighbor Mr. Vuoso to touch her sexually. She does not seem to think that these grown men's sexual advances are inappropriate. Why do you think this is? What do we know about Jasira's emotional health before and after she moves to Texas?

7. Jasira and Thomas are both 13 years old. Do you think their level of sexual knowledge and activity is "normal" in the United States? How should parents or authority figures handle the subject of teenage sex?

8. Even in the best of circumstances, every parent makes mistakes with their children. Are Jasira's parents "good" parents? Why or why not?

9. Mr. Vuoso gives Jasira a Playboy magazine when he discovers her looking at it. What does this gift reveal about him? Mr. Vuoso has a large collection of Playboy magazines. Do you think his taste for pornography made him prone to rationalizing his behavior with Jasira? Or did he understand what he was doing? Was Mr. Vuoso a child molester, a rapist, or neither? Was his punishment appropriate for what he did?

10. Jasira becomes aroused while looking at the naked women in Playboy. Does this indicate that she may be a lesbian or bisexual? Why or why not?

11. How does Jasira's father's discovery of the Playboy in her room change Jasira's life? What would her life have been like had he not discovered the Playboy?

12. What role does Melina play in Jasira's life? Jasira doesn't feel happy about Melina's pregnancy, and in fact, resents the forthcoming new baby. Why does she feel this way? How does she feel about the baby at the end of the book?

13. Toward the end of Towelhead, Jasira's father and Melina become friends, albeit wary ones. What causes them to bond? Will their friendship last?

14. Though Towelhead primarily focuses on the personal lives of its characters, it also reveals the political climate of 1991. Discuss some of the specific behaviors (i.e., the proliferation of American flags) and feelings about the Mideast that have changed in the United States since then.

Enhance Your Book Club: Tips to Make Towelhead Come to Life

1. Food plays a major role in defining culture in Towelhead. Go to a Middle Eastern restaurant or serve Middle Eastern foods such as hummus, baba ghanouj, or baklava to bring more "flavor" to your book club meeting.

2. Make a compilation CD or tape of the top pop songs from 1991 to help set the mood musically for your gathering. Make extra copies so each attendee can take one home with them. The entire group could also dress as teenagers from 1991, i.e., wear acid-washed jeans or create the "big hair" looks of that era.

3. Jasira, her father Rifat, Melina, and Mr. Vuoso are all distinctive characters. Assign a character to each member of the book group to bring an item of clothing or object that captures the "essence" of who that character is. For example, for Mr. Vuoso, someone could bring a flag; for Melina, someone could wear a maternity blouse.

4. With relations between the Arab and Western worlds still precarious, a proliferation of racial or religious persecution examples are still occurring with regularity. Have each member bring in articles of recent instances and suggest ways or steps that could be taken in which the conflicts could be solved. You could also provide information on how to handle instances of intolerance and prejudice by buying a book on this topic or searching the Internet for guidelines.

Customer Reviews

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Towelhead 4 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 45 reviews.
Guest More than 1 year ago
As the title suggests, this book is about the harsh name-calling of a person of Middle Eastern descent. The person in question is a young teenage girl entering adolescence. But it goes much more beyond that. It's about the many poor relationships that she must endure before finding out that people (especially children) shouldn't really be treated the way she has been. The book is by first-time novelist Alicia Erian, and I picked it up because I always enjoy reading authors' first efforts. It was definitely an easy read, told from the perspective of the 13-year-old girl, Jasira, who lives with her strict (and physically abusive) Lebanese father in Texas after her Irish mother sends her to live there. It was well-written in that it was written as a 13-year-old might write. The language was simple, direct, and adolescent (in a good way). Had Erian written it differently, it would have lost its realistic approach into the mind, thoughts, and feelings of a young girl. Jasira's mother sends her to live there after she discovers that the mother's boyfriend did some inappropriate things to her daughter. Of course, her mother maintains the relationship with her boyfriend, showing where her loyalty lies. While in Texas, Jasira befriends the neighbors, much to her father's displeasure and begins to babysit for a young boy who feels free to use 'Towelhead' as an appropriate term for his babysitter. Jasira also befriends the boy's father, and he later sexually abuses her, making her feel like she did something wrong, and that it was okay that he did so. To add fuel to the fire, we discover that Jasira's father is a racist and tells her to stop seeing an African-American boy in school. She goes against his wishes (behind his back, of course), as she likes spending time with her new boyfriend...and exploring sex with him. 'Towelhead' could very well be this generation's 'Are You There God, It's Me, Margaret?' It is a bit more graphic, though, so parents should be a bit wary and read the book first. That's not to say that this is a teenager's book. It's very much for adults. But it contains some valuable lessons for teenagers and adults alike about relationships and parenting. Kudos to Erain for an enjoyable book!
Guest More than 1 year ago
I'm shocked there aren't any reviews up for this book yet! I don't feel the two editorial reviews give a good picture of the book, so here is my review of it. Wow! Towelhead was a wonderful book I simply couldn't put down. Alicia Erian deftly explores the maturing of a young Lebanese-American girl. Erian takes a no-holds-barred approach to telling Jasira's story, and for that her book has been dubbed 'controversial.' Yet this book's explicitness was what made it ring so very true to this reader, a woman who was a young teen herself and who teaches them each day. This book was so honest and heartfelt and I read it in the course of one night. In addition to racism, this book explores the heartbreaking sensuality of a girls' first sexual explorations. Maybe it's my heightened awareness to this topic due to some issues some of my students went through last year that have led me to seek out books on this issue, but I've read a lot of excellent books on this topic lately and Ms. Erian's book takes its proud place next to these others.Other books that might be good companions to this are listed at the bottom of this review. My only gripe with this book would be that it seems to ache for a sequel! I hope Ms. Erian will write one sometime soon. Brava, Ms. Erian! More, please!
henrys708 on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
The book Towelhead had a dramatic impact upon me. When Jasira was slapped, I felt it. I even felt tired and desensitized when, three quarters into the book, she had been slapped so many times that its occurrence almost seemed normal. I say this in spite of running the risk of giving you an impression of Towelhead that appears to be all too common: that it¿s a book about child abuse, or a book about sexual abuse, or a book about racism. Towelhead isn¿t any of these things. This is a book through which you get to know a 13 year old girl named Jasira who experiences physical abuse, sexual abuse and racism. This book has helped me to realize that I may have actually interacted in real life with other Jasira¿s: girls that have experienced many of the same things that she experiences in this book. Without entering into a relationship as unusual as the one created between the reader and the main character of Towelhead, it¿s very unlikely that I would recognize a real life Jasira. I would have to notice the bruises that a young girl tries to hide by covering it with her shirt sleeve. I would have to notice when she makes an odd or suspicious comment during a casual conversation, which would reveal experiences beyond her years. In Towelhead Jasira tells you, the reader, in a very intimate and yet matter of fact fashion what she is experiencing, on the day it happens, at the moment it happens. This book is written in the first person. This is the reason why it¿s so intimate. Through her masterful use of the first person narrative Alicia Erian creates a vantage point like that of sitting on Jasira¿s shoulder, witnessing her every experience and being made privy to her every thought and desire.I noticed that online this book is either tagged erotica or put in the category of erotica. Considering the fact that the main character is 13 years old this may seem strange. I¿m not going to argue one way or the other whether it¿s erotica or not. The simple fact is that, in the first three or four chapters of the book, Jasira discovers how to pleasure herself sexually. And as with all of her other experiences her descriptions are direct, intimate, and matter of fact. If these specific sections of the book were separated from the rest of the book and the age therefore was not known by the reader, they would certainly have a lot in common with popular erotica. The reader wouldn¿t have any reason to know that they were the experiences of a thirteen year old girl. The experiences are not age specific. Her first person descriptions of producing more and more sexual pleasure in a wider and wider variety of ways are descriptions that could have been made by a twenty year old woman, a fourteen year old boy, a forty-five year old woman, or a fifty year old man. The descriptions were not age specific and it wouldn¿t be hard to switch the gender. That universality ends though with an age and gender specific sexual assault, and Jasira¿s specific situation is integral to all subsequent descriptions of her sexual experiences. After watching the movie I wondered about the relevance of the title Towelhead. Now that I¿ve read the book I feel that this debate totally disregards the book¿s uniqueness. It is the best presentation, out of everything that I¿ve read, of everyday racism. This is not the story of a racially charged environment in which two communities struggle to occupy the same space; or the story of the heroin who stands up to pressure from her people and defends members of an oppressed community. Through Jasira you see how racism is part of the complexity of everyday life in the United States. You see typical contradictions in the interactions between the characters, the everyday contrast between what characters in this book say and what they do, or what they espouse and what they admit. This book is unusual on three dimensions: the main character has intense sexual experiences but it¿s not a book about sex; she encounters racism in an intimate way bu
jphillips3334 on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
The story concerns a 13 year old girl named Jasira who deals with some extraordinary situations in her life. Not your typical coming-of-age story, but possibly one for contemporary girls: since she deals with such things as self discovery, sex, abuse (emotional, physical, and sexual), pedophiles, and racism. Topics that are all too common in contemporary society. It contains graphic descriptions of the sex and abuse, so some may find that offensive, especially since it involves such a young character. A good and fast read, you might like it if you like not-so-mainstream fiction.
TimBazzett on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
Creepy, compelling and unbearably sad .Towelhead kinda weirded me out. I bought it for my wife after she saw an actor from the film version talking about it on The View a month or so ago. She started reading it to me aloud while we were driving across Ohio and Pennsylvania. We were both weirded out. I mean we grew up in the 50s and 60s, a time when kids simply did not engage in the kind of sexual experimentation so graphically portrayed in this book. Granted there is a kind of innocence and a kind of unquestioning amorality in the way they do it, but still ... I know there's been a lot of stuff in the news and media in the past few years about the prevalence of sex play, particularly oral sex, that junior high schoolers now supposedly regularly indulge in, just to "be popular." But to read about it here, from inside the mind of a 13-14 yr-old girl, is just shocking, frightening, and, finally, just incredibly sad. And the home-life of protagonist, Jasira - if you can even call it that - is simply nonexistent and tragic. The adult neighbor who molests her, the father who hits her, the mother who sent her away because mom's boyfriend was too "interested" in Jasira. The inter-racial and inter-ethnic relationships set against the backdrop of the first Gulf War are all very skillfully interwoven into the story, making poor Jasira even more of a victim. I'm nearly sixty-five years old and I shudder to think of all that my grandchildren will have to cope with - all the wrong expectations and peer pressure of a society gone dreadfully astray from the values my wife and I knew as children and teenagers. I'm not saying this is a bad book. Quite the contrary. It's an excellent depiction of the way things probably are, unfortunately. I winced my way through 300-plus pages, but in the end, there is an epiphany-like scene (for Jasira) that brought tears to my eyes, and also gave me hope that maybe somehow things would be okay for her after all. I'm not sure if this book is meant for teenagers to read. Probably not, but their parents definitely should. Alicia Erian has written a very important document of our times.
Grabbag on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
Alicia Erian didn't do justice to the 13 year old girl's mind. She depicted Jasira as a dumb kid with no other cares in the world except her sexual awakening. While it is a big part of every teen girl's life, it is by no means the most important or consuming. Jasira was not a likable character, mainly due to her own ignorance and selfishness. Overall, the book was depressing and wholly untrue of the teenage girl.
plenilune on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
A powerful, unflinching coming-of-age tale about Jasira, a 13-year-old of mixed Lebanese/Irish heritage. Erian writes the naive Jasira's voice so skillfully it imakes the novel both completely believable, and completely maddening. While I found the character of Melina a bit unrealistic in the too-good-to-be-true vein, the book is otherwise an intriguing study of human connections, both those we happen upon and those we choose for ourselves.
LauraT81 on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
I found Towelhead, the coming-of-age story about thirteen year old Jasira, to be entertaining and upsetting. This debut novel explores adolesence honestly and spares no detail from Jasira's first period to her many sexual ecounters. Quick read that is hard to put down despite being disturbing at times. Though it is described as coming-of-age, I wouldn't recommend it to young readers due to very graphic sexual content, including rape. Great novel overall.
saramllr on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
This is not something I would normally pick up to read, but I had to for work. This novel is a heavy and in-your-face depiction of racism and sexual abuse, but it is also very well written. It is also heart-breaking and unsettling. Not for the faint of heart.
carmarie on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
This is the first novel that I've read which deals with adolescent female sexuality in a way that is honest and realistic. Though still child-like in her thoughts and behavior, Jasira's body has nonetheless matured into that of an adult woman. She has been neglected and ignored by both her parents, which leaves her craving attention and approval, and vulnerable to abuse. Erian does a good job of exploring the complexities of adolescent female sexuality. On the one hand, Jasira is excited to learn about sexual pleasure, and yearns to receive romantic attention and affection from her father's next door neighbor. On the other hand, Jasira submits to the sexual demands of her classmate in order to placate him and maintain their friendship. Jasira, like all adolescent girls, lacks the emotional maturity and awareness of self that are critical to having a healthy sexual relationship, but is nonetheless at an age where she is discovering and exploring her sexuality.
zenhikers on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
A young girl's troubled sexual awakening is not the easiest subject to write about, but the prose is extremely readable if not enlightened. Jasira¿s story is compelling as she muddles through a racist, confused no-man¿s land torn between her need for parental love and her instincts to fill the vacuum with demeaning sexual acts. An interesting book that has sweet and poignant moments in its conclusion.
GBev2010 on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
I'm sure many people are reluctant to give this book a high rating due to the graphic depiction of sexual abuse of a 13 year old girl. As the father of two young girls I found those scenes difficult to endure, but I think this book tackled the issue honestly and effectively. The book is not difficult to read in terms of the style, but the subject matter makes it tough going sometimes. You may be tempted to be offended by the subject, but if you give the book a chance you'll be rewarded. It's a brave book that will challenge, scare, and unsettle you, but is well written and thought provoking.
Summersoldier on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
An upsetting book as it covers pedophilia as well as a young naive girl (Jasira) thrown into a sexual world too early. Jasira's voice though really pulled me in. She is very emotionless even when talking about upsetting events like family abuse etc. A tough book to get through but it sheds new light on the struggles of abused children who find themselves taken advantage of. Semi-happy ending but not a light and happy book to be sure.
schatzi on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
I really had some hopes for this book once I read the blurb on the jacket, but it didn't live up to them. The author tells the story instead of allowing the characters to do it, which makes it dreadfully boring to read. The plot is also as two-dimensional as can be: every man who comes into the proximity of this 13-year-old girl wants to have sex with her or rape her. Blah. The story could have been so much more than it is.
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Angela Meadows More than 1 year ago
I didn't care for this book. It was too explicit for my taste. I wonder if anyone really lives like this.
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