Tamara Faith Berger
With her third novel, Maidenhead, Tamara Faith Berger dives headfirst into the complicated sexual education of a teenage girl, Myra, who is on the brink of finally understanding herself. Through a mix of sexiness and smut, Berger remains true to her reputation of “lit-porn provocateur,” allowing us to journey through Myra’s complex sexual games while relevantly touching on politics, race, and sadomasochism.
Myra goes searching for her first sexual experience while on a family trip to Florida, and abruptly finds it in a darkened motel room with Elijah, a man three times her age. She returns home confused and aroused, and quietly disjoins herself from her old friends and joins a new group of pot-smoking anarchists while her family collapses around her. When Elijah follows her home, Myra begins a downward spiral into the perverse world of master versus slave and sadomasochism, while Gayl, Elijah’s peculiar girlfriend, films every minute of it. The more that Myra’s family falls apart around her, the more she finds herself craving the intensity of Elijah and Gayl. We are swallowed up into the hidden desires of a desperate teenage girl, longing for something that she doesn’t even understand.
Myra’s journey is not meant to represent a regular coming-of-age tale featuring a normal teenage girl, but instead focuses more on a situation that strays from the norm and pushes the barriers of sexual understanding. The events in Myra’s life range from relatable to unbelievable, but Berger’s writing gives the novel a flow that might not be expected, especially considering the lewd encounters. Even during some of the harder-to-read moments of the novel, we are reminded of Myra’s true innocence and her simple desire to find something in her life that she can hold on to. The darkest actions are peppered with the reminder of what it means to be a struggling teenager, softening the rougher edges of the storyline and turning it into something understandable. Even if the thoughts, desires and actions of Myra aren’t those of your first sexual experience, or even of your wildest dreams, reading Maidenhead is definitely an experience worth having.