February 22, 2007


Anatomy of a Boyfriend. By Daria Snadowsky. Delacorte Press. $16.99.

      First love hurts. Oh yes, it is wonderful – the discovery of depths of feeling you never knew you possessed, the sharing of hopes and dreams and secrets, and the sharing of bodies, too. But when first love ends, as it inevitably does, it hurts, with a pain in direct proportion to the joys it had in full flower.

      Daria Snadowsky’s first novel gets the pain right, and manages to get many of the joys right, too. Snadowsky’s heroine, Dominique, is a worthwhile protagonist: smart (she plans to be a doctor), self-assured and knowledgeable (in book learning, anyway). Unlike far too many heroines in books aimed at teenagers, Dominique does not have a broken family adding to her troubles. In fact, it is the happiness of her parents together that makes her own eventual broken-heartedness feel all the more acute to her – until a surprising revelation by her father helps her put that so-important first love in perspective.

      But that is how things end. They begin less well: Snadowsky is not quite sure how to get the book going, and falls back on a few too many clichés. For instance, Dom first meets her soon-to-be-first-love, Wes, when he helps rescue her after she falls in the mud. Also, Wes and Dom are of the opposites-attract type, with Wes being a track star and Dom decidedly bookish (she competes in and wins academic quiz shows). And both of them are physical and emotional virgins, with Wes specifically saying that all the action sports stars supposedly get is just so much talk – not much reality there.

      But if the first third of Anatomy of a Boyfriend reads like something often seen before, the remaining two-thirds fairly crackles with intensity. As the emotional and – especially – sexual feelings between Dom and Wes develop, Snadowsky shows the couple’s mounting passion and increasing connectedness with a great sense of style and a palpable feeling of realism. This book is targeted at ages 14 and above, no doubt because of the sex scenes, but that is also the right age range for the emotional intensity that develops as Dom and Wes scale the heights before the relationship crumbles in pain and misunderstanding.

      It is Wes – never as fully formed a character as Dom – who brings everything down, and he does so rather callously (another dip into cliché – in this case, of the boy as cad). But Snadowsky keeps the focus on Dom and her reactions, so the book’s conclusion has considerable power. Even Dom’s “fast girl” friend, Amy – another typical element in books like this – has more resonance and believability than many similar characters, and has troubles of her own that help Dom keep hers in perspective. Anatomy of a Boyfriend is not a happy book and certainly not an unflawed one, but it feels so true emotionally, and has such an uplifting-but-not-sappy ending, that teen readers – especially girls who identify with Dom – will look forward eagerly to Snadowsky’s second novel.

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