The Blurb On The Back:
During Frankie’s first sexual experience with the quiet and lovely Benjamin, she gets her period. It’s only blood, they agree. But soon a graphic meme goes viral, turning their fun, intimate afternoon into something disgusting, mortifying and damaging. As the online shaming takes on a horrifying life of its own, Frankie begins to wonder: is her real life over?
The Review (Cut For Spoilers):
Frankie first notices quiet, rugby-playing Benjamin at Jackson Twigger’s 16th birthday. She’s not as boy or sex-obsessed as her best friend Harriet but there’s something about Benjamin that she just can’t ignore. It’s almost enough to distract her from getting the school reference she needs to apply for a place on the summer programme at the local planetarium where she works on the weekend – a programme that could see her go on to become a professional astronomer.
So when Benjamin reveals that he likes her too and the two end up having a spontaneous sexual encounter one afternoon after school. It’s fun and special right up until Frankie realises that she’s got her period, and the blood has gotten on Benjamin. Fortunately, he’s incredibly mature about it rather than grossed out, laughing it off as just a bit of blood. It looks like this could lead to a proper relationship.
But then someone at school finds out what happened and Frankie finds herself the victim of cruel gossip and hurtful jokes that only get worse when someone turns a photo of her into a meme that quickly goes viral. Now Frankie’s got strangers on the internet calling her a slut and worse, threatening to track her down. Convinced that her life is over, the last thing she needs is to fall out with Harriet, but not only are they not speaking due to a bad decision that Harriet made, but Frankie is sure that Harriet helped to spread the meme …
Lucy Cuthew’s debut YA contemporary novel cleverly uses a verse format to explore the taboos of sex and periods and expose the double standards used against girls for demonstrating their sexuality. However, while I enjoyed the girl power ending, it doesn’t reflect what would happen in reality (other than the lack of consequences for the antagonist) while Frankie and Harriet’s broken friendship is a little contrived and through the motions.
I was a little skeptical of the verse format for this book because it can be gimmicky but Cuthew uses it well, adapting the formatting to distinguish between speakers during dialogue exchanges and set up emotions and incorporating hashtags to establish emotions or thoughts. It also gives the book a sparse writing style, which for the most part works well but there were some parts where I think a more traditional narrative format may have worked better. This is most notable when it comes to the part about Frankie and Harriet’s friendship and how and why it breaks down because while I understood Frankie’s frustration with Harriet’s flirty ways and refusal to take responsibility for what she’s done by sending a sexual selfie to a teacher (although I would have liked some acknowledgement of why the teacher had to report it) I didn’t quite buy into why Harriet would take against her so viciously in the circumstances (notably when she takes a photo of Frankie in the shower and threatens to send it to people). It just seemed a little contrived in the circumstances to make Frankie feel that she had no allies and it’s reinforced by the fact that Frankie and Harriet’s other friends are underdeveloped and kind of merge into the background.
The point of the book is to do demystify period blood and tackle the shame that girls are made to feel about it and I think it does that pretty well. The scene between Frankie and Benjamin is sensitively handled and yet still reads true and I also liked Frankie’s attempt to defuse the growing gossip by pointing out that it’s only blood, while also wincing at the internet’s all too realistic response to it. Similarly, Cuthew’s depiction of the abuse that Frankie takes from the internet and the threats of sexual violence are sadly believable and Cuthew nails Frankie’s emotional reaction to it.
I think that’s probably why I did find the ending a little disappointing – not because I disliked the girl power emphasis of it (I am a sucker for people coming together to fight the system) – but because it seems to suggest that a line can be drawn underneath it to enable the victim to move on, when in fact that meme would continue to haunt Frankie for the rest of her life. I wished that Cuthew had acknowledged that and had Frankie decide to work out a way of handling it rather than brushing it to one side by suggesting that good deeds can crowd out the bad.
In the same vein, while I liked the fact that Cuthew draws out how all the negative attention is focused on Frankie rather than Benjamin and how Benjamin leaves Frankie to get onto it, I really disliked how that storyline is resolved. On the plus side Frankie makes a point of telling Benjamin how she won’t find it easy to trust him, yet the fact that he does something in the background that helps her is apparently enough to hold out the promise of a future relationship. It’s not that it’s unrealistic, it’s that it’s depressingly believable that a teenage girl would accept that from a boy who has made no public attempt to stand by her or provide emotional support and the author seems to suggest that a romantic future is still possible and desirable.
Similarly depressing is the fact that the antagonist responsible for the meme doesn’t really suffer any consequences for it given the damage they did to Frankie (damage that will continue for years). Leaving aside the fact that it’s pretty easy to guess who the antagonist is, I think I would have been more interesting if Cuthew had made an explicit point about how the antagonist is able to wreck someone’s life so badly and then pretty much walk away and that this should not be okay.
One final comment is that while I did enjoy the relationship that Frankie has with her parents, the dad-joking father who tries to show he’s cool grated at times because it’s so over-done. That’s a shame because a scene later on when Frankie confesses that she’s worried her dad is ashamed of her is sensitively handled.
All in all, I thought that this was a strong debut that for the most part tackles a difficult taboo with refreshing honesty and clarity and for that reason, it’s well worth a read.
BLOOD MOON was released in the United Kingdom on 2nd July 2020. Thanks to Walker Books for the review copy of this book.