Anatomy of a Boyfriend
by Daria Snadowsky
Original Publication Date: January 9, 2007
Length: 272 pages
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Before this all happened, the closest I’d ever come to getting physical with a guy was playing the board game Operation. Okay, so maybe that sounds pathetic, but it’s not like there were any guys at my high school who I cared to share more than three words with, let alone my body.
Then I met Wes, a track star senior from across town. Maybe it was his soulful blue eyes, or maybe my hormones just started raging. Either way, I was hooked. And after a while, he was too. I couldn’t believe how intense my feelings became, or the fact that I was seeing—and touching—parts of the body I’d only read about in my Gray’s Anatomy textbook. You could say Wes and I experienced a lot of firsts together that spring. It was scary. It was fun. It was love.
And then came the fall.
Days after finishing Anatomy of a Boyfriend, I still am not quite sure what to think of the book. Perhaps I expected to like it more than I did, and that’s what left me so confused upon finishing, but I don’t think that’s exactly it. I think, in the end, is that Anatomy of a Boyfriend had the potential to be a unique, unflinchingly real portrayal of teenage relationships, but it ended up feeling more by-the-book and less with feeling.
Here are the things I liked about Anatomy of a Boyfriend:
- I liked that Dominique got to explore her sexuality on the page in a way that the majority of male characters in contemporary YA get to do, but female characters rarely achieve.
I’m not sure I’ve read a contemporary YA before that so clearly has both male and female teen characters being sexual beings in equal measure. That’s so important, y’all. So often the male characters are perpetually aroused while the female characters are too often either portrayed with a childish innocence or as objects and not actors of sexuality(or, if they are portrayed as sexual beings, nothing good ever comes of it). This isn’t always the case, but it does seem the most common dynamic, and I’m glad Anatomy of a Boyfriend shook that up. In many ways, this aspect of Anatomy of a Boyfriend reminded me of Lauren Myracle’s The Infinite Moment of Us, but I much prefer the way Anatomy of a Boyfriend deals with this.
To go along with this, I also appreciated the fact that while Dominique sometimes made perhaps at least reasonably unwise choices when it came to her relationship with Wes, she was never shamed or humiliated for them.
- I liked how the relationship between Dominique and Wes was portrayed.
This is not a “I want them to be together forever” relationship. At no point in the book was I rooting for Dominique and Wes as the reader, and I wasn’t supposed t. Dominique was head over heels for Wes, but I never was, and I’m glad of that. It felt true to life in how teenagers can fall quickly(and not just teenagers–people in general can fall quick and hard), but that doesn’t mean they need to be together forever or that they’re right for each other.
So often, the relationships portrayed in books seem to come down to one of three types. You have A, the couple madly in love and the reader is suppose to root for their happily ever after. Then there’s the B, the unhealthy relationship that’s portrayed as unhealthy and is meant as an exploration of relationship dynamics more than something the reader is meant to desire. And then finally there’s C, the standard relationship the characters are in until something better comes along.
Anatomy of a Boyfriend doesn’t fall into any of those categories. Wes is not an amazing guy, nor he is terrible and awful. He’s just human, like Dominique, and they explore something new together. They struggle with communication and sometimes get to a weird point of obsession, but their relationship is never harmful or seriously unhealthy, nor is it in any way a relationship to aspire to. They fall for each other and they’re portrayed as in love, but at no point does it ever feel like it’s supposed to be this soul-mate relationship, and that’s refreshing.
However, there were also quite a few things about Anatomy of a Boyfriend that I didn’t like.
- The characters often felt juvenile despite the mature subject matter.
I realize that this may be an issue of writing choice and a way of showing that teenagers can make decisions about mature topics while still also being young and juvenile and foolish. However, this didn’t work for me because it felt so out of place. If it was a matter of choice, I personally didn’t see that within the story. It often led to some weird form of disconnect and frequently(and I mean frequently) drew me out of the story.
Perhaps if the story had stayed only within the realm of Dominique’s high school experience I would have found this easier to handle, but Anatomy of a Boyfriend continues all the way through Dominique’s first semester at college, and the tone of her voice and her maturity level doesn’t shift in the way I would expect it to. Obviously a semester is not a whole lot of time, but the first semester of college is a time full of changes and I personally have never met a college freshman who hadn’t changed at least a little by winter break.
- Dominique felt two-dimensional
Throughout 260 pages, I never felt like I, as the reader, had the opportunity to get a good grasp on Dominique’s personality and characteristics, at least not in a meaningful way. I knew she was smart, because other characters brought it up, and I knew she was driven based on some passages about college applications, but that was about it. There were other tidbits of information here and there–she liked to be prepared, hadn’t really done anything with a guy before, etc–but they felt few and far between.
I wasn’t expecting an in-depth character study, because I knew Anatomy of a Boyfriend was focused on the relationship between Dominique and Wes, but I expected at least something a little more. While I understood why and how Dominique would get swept up in her relationship with Wes, there still should have been some underlying bits of personality still coming through in their interactions. I had trouble remembering her name while I was reading the book. Everything was so nondescript.
I think this issue is why Anatomy of a Boyfriend felt so “by-the-book”, as I described it earlier. With more character development and depth, Anatomy of a Boyfriend could have been unique and revelatory. While there were still aspects of the story and its realism that I appreciated, it felt so standard that it made it hard for me to applaud the realistic depiction of a teenage relationship, because it felt like that was all it was. It felt like the book started out with the idea of exploring a teenage girl’s relationship with her boyfriend and sex for the first time, which is all fine and good, but it never went further to develop an actual compelling story.
As it is, Anatomy of a Boyfriend had some unique things to offer to contemporary YA, but I wasn’t too impressed by the story-telling. I do believe this is probably a book that an actual YA audience would enjoy, but as a reader who is now out of that age range, it didn’t hold much appeal to me. 2/5 cupcakes.