During a family vacation in Key West, 16-year-old Myra meets Elijah, a beautiful Tanzanian musician twice her age. After a few brief encounters, Myra decides she wants to lose her virginity to him and becomes desperate to do so, having unlocked a strong sexual desire in herself. When her family returns home to Toronto, nothing is the same. Her parent’s decide to split up, her mother moves to Korea to teach English, and Myra becomes awakened, manifesting all her lust into the memory of Elijah. His arrival in her hometown with his artist girlfriend Gayl opens the door to her increasingly provocative fantasies.
It is the honest and open narrative that allows this story to be more than a tragedy
Maidenhead is not a story about romance. It’s about sex. It’s about porn and power and shame and the raw conflicted emotion that accompanies youth at the introduction of sexual understanding. It dives full force into the unhinged exploration of Myra’s teenaged sexuality without glossing over any grit. Myra is drawn to the illicit danger she finds with Elijah. She, quite literally, gets off on the fantasy of giving herself fully and completely to him. Her desires don’t stem from Disney Princess ideals either. Rather, Myra educates herself with videos of misogynist porn, learning a very skewed version of sexuality while taking cues from the girls onscreen. Despite warnings from her friends and the worry of her parents, Myra runs full tilt into a exploitive triangle with Elijah and Gayl, who specifically target young white privileged girls for their exploits. Myra’s victimization is obvious, and yet her voice is terribly assertive. Though the story grows more and more situationally horrible, Myra does not come off as a victim. As a young teen, she is just beginning to develop her opinions, pulling way from her parents’ nurturing and quickly developing parts of herself on her own. She becomes attracted to and finds a potent freedom in her willing enslavement. However Myra’s youth is revealed in her passivity. She both knows and doesn’t know what she wants. She wants anything and everything without boundary. And it is this honest and open narrative that allows this story to be more than a tragedy. It is, in a way, her liberation. An unraveling of girlhood. She draws power from her humiliation, and though Elijah and Gayl take advantage of her, she returns to them again and again satisfying her own need.
Maidenhead explores many different faces of of sexuality; while being smutty, explicit and shocking it also traces the lines of terrifying and stimulating simultaneously. Sex and discovery are never ever as clean as the carefully constructed love scenes that dominate popular culture. It is muddied, dirty, confusing and even haunting, but also captivating and tantalizing. That is what I loved about Maidenhead. That in Myra’s story, we get a look at both sides of sex; the virgin and the slut in one unconventional heroine.
Maidenhead by Tamara Faith Berger
Coach House Books