Cover of On the Subject of Unmentionable Things by Julia Walton. A simple, ripe peach.

About the Book

Title: On the Subject of Unmentionable Things
Published: 2022

Cover Story: Peachy
Drinking Buddy: No Shame in Not Drinking
Talky Talk: No Good Deed
MPAA Rating: R (clinical descriptions of sexuality)
Bonus Factor: Moral panic
Relationship Status: Counselor

Cover Story: Peachy

This just goes to prove that you don’t need ridiculous giant teen faces or crazy detailed artwork to make a good cover. The simple peach, with its mildly erotic undertones, does just fine.

The Deal:

High school student Phoebe Townsend writes the anonymous blog ‘The Circle in the Square’ (a reference to a condom). It’s a clinical, judgement-free advice column about sexuality. There are no stupid questions. And with the school’s abstinence-only sex ed curriculum, Phoebe feels her peers need a place where they can go for straight answers about anything. All her answers are well-researched and cited.

However, all is not well. Lydia Brookhurst, ex-beauty queen and mayoral candidate, has made it a campaign promise to expose the smut peddler behind the blog. The sick pervert offering advice about consent, birth control, and human sexuality. Don’t people know that sex is only, ONLY for married adults? Phoebe’s not worried about being found out, but she is amused when her friend keeps telling Phoebe to check out the blog.

Also, Phoebe has never actually…kissed a boy. All her information is purely theoretical. It’s not like she wouldn’t like some practical experience, but not every guy notices the awkward newspaper reporter with the braces.

But when Brookhurst starts trying to influence school policy, when her followers start harassing the food truck workers, and when her parents start working for the enemy, Phoebe wonders if she should tell the world who she is.

Drinking Buddy: No Shame in Not Drinking

Two pints of beer cheersing

Now when you’re writing a sex blog, people are going to assume things about you. For starters, readers believe that she gets her knowledge from field experience, and she’s inundated with obnoxious mail from guys who want to put her advice into practice. Also, people like Burkhurst do enjoy calling names. Phoebe doesn’t exactly enjoy being labelled a sex-crazed pervert by a woman who would expose her in a second.

Talky Talk: No Good Deed

What could be more offensive than a teenager giving advice about…S-E-X? I dunno. A bunch of pregnant fifteen-year-olds? Illegal abortions? An STD outbreak at school? Phoebe realizes her classmates aren’t getting good advice from the coach who teaches the health class or from the internet wasteland.

Phoebe doesn’t miss the irony of never having had a boyfriend while giving advice about male anatomy, etc. And she’d love to challenge Burkhurst to a debate, but obviously can’t. Can’t a girl just meet a nice boy, have a social life, and answer the age old question: “Is it possible to fracture your penis?”

MPAA Rating: R (clinical descriptions of sexuality)

Phoebe is perfectly happy to play the teenage Dr. Ruth. But, well, a girl gets lonely, doesn’t she? Her friend Cora has a dippy boyfriend, so why does Phoebe never get anyone’s attention? Like, for instance, Neil, the beautiful nerd who edits the school paper, and who has complimented her on her proofreading skills. Not like that meatheaded guy Jorge, the football player she was forced to interview. The surprisingly intelligent guy who maintains his own garden and always wants to engage Phoebe in conversation.

Bonus Factor: Moral panic

A pile of books sitting in the sand, on fire.

Lydia Brookhurst’s former claim to fame was her ability to do an amazing split, something she can still do in her forties. But Phoebe’s mother remembers her from back in high school, and how she would ruin anyone who crossed her. And now Brookhurst might just become mayor and would have considerable influence on the school district. She’s just thinking of the children (while hawking her line of purity rings). And she wants those filthy food trucks out of town…all run by foreigners…probably illegals…not like the TRUE Americans who’d vote for her. Brookhurst is a lovely woman…not like her pig ugly, probably a lesbian opponent. And if Brookhurst ever found out that the author of that filthy, filthy blog was a teenage girl…she’d keep it to herself, right?

From ‘Louie Louie’ to Dungeons & Dragons to the Tide Pod challenge, people like to stir up controversy where there really is none. And people like Brookhurst know how to use that to their advantage.

Relationship Status: Counselor

As a librarian, I appreciated Phoebe’s willingness to cite her sources. As a teacher, I appreciated her solid advice. And as a reader, I enjoyed the story a lot, as well as the author’s previous book.

Literary Matchmaking

Words on Bathroom Walls

Words on Bathroom Walls by the same author is another good, though more intense, read.

Respect: Everything a Guy Needs to Know About Sex, Love, and Consent

Respect: Everything a Guy Needs to Know About Sex, Love, and Consent by Inti Chavez Perez contains real life relationship advice, and the eggplant compliments the peach nicely.

Let’s Talk About It: The Teen’s Guide to Sex, Relationships, and Being a Human (A Graphic Novel)

Let’s Talk About It: The Teen’s Guide to Sex, Relationships, and Being a Human by Erica Moen is a graphic novel about sexuality and relationships.

FCC Full disclosure: I received neither money nor home grown peaches for writing this review.

Brian wrote his first YA novel when he was down and out in Mexico. He now lives in Missouri with his wonderful wife and daughter. He divides his time between writing and working as a school librarian. Brian still misses the preachy YA books of the eighties.