5 Rated Books Book Reviews

Book Review: Shut Out by Kody Keplinger

Title: Shut Out

Author: Kody Keplinger

Genre: Contemporary, Retelling, Young Adult

Publisher: Poppy
Publication date: September 5 2011
Hardcover: 288 pages

Most high school sports teams have rivalries with other schools. At Hamilton High, it’s a civil war: the football team versus the soccer team. And for her part,Lissa is sick of it. Her quarterback boyfriend, Randy, is always ditching her to go pick a fight with the soccer team or to prank their locker room. And on three separate occasions Randy’s car has been egged while he and Lissa were inside, making out. She is done competing with a bunch of sweaty boys for her own boyfriend’s attention.

Lissa decides to end the rivalry once and for all: She and the other players’ girlfriends go on a hookup strike. The boys won’t get any action from them until the football and soccer teams make peace. What they don’t count on is a new sort of rivalry: an impossible girls-against-boys showdown that hinges on who will cave to their libidos first. And Lissa never sees her own sexual tension with the leader of the boys, Cash Sterling, coming.

Stand alone or series: Stand alone

How did I get this book: I got a signed copy at BEA

Why did I read this book: I saw to Kody Keplinger talking at a panel during the Author Teen Carnival in NY back in May and thought she was pretty interesting. It made me want to give her books another shot (since I wasn’t a huge fan of The Duff published last year).


Shut Out is a modern-day retelling of Aristophanes’ Lysistrata, a classic Greek play about Lysistrata and her attempt to end the Peloponnesian War by persuading the women of the warring nations to withhold sex from their husbands in order to force peace negotiations. This foments a battle of the sexes as both sides try to stand their ground until eventually, the men give in and peace is achieved.

I was curious to see how Kody Keplinger would deal with this premise in a modern context and especially with what I, personally, consider the most troubling aspects of the play when taken out of its historical context: 1) sex is more important to men than to women and women are able to withstand lack of sexual release more easily; and 2) the fact that sex can be used as a feminine weapon.

In Shut Out the “war” is a ten-year-long rivalry between the football team and the soccer team at Hamilton High School. The heroine of the novel is Lissa and she is sick and tired of competing for her boyfriend’s attention. Randy is the quarterback of the school and even though he loves her, he doesn’t seem to love her enough to put her first. Lissa then concocts this plan and rallies all the girlfriends to join her on a hookup strike. As the battle rages on, the girls become friends and share their fears and hopes about sex and boys whilst Lissa becomes disillusioned with Randy and falls in love with another guy, Cash Sterling.

I am troubled by this novel.

On the one hand there are quite a few positive things about it. The novel is honestly quite fun if one can disregard the premise and the potentially problematic aspects that stem from it. The romance that develops between Cash Sterling (quite possibly the cheesiest character’s name in the history of cheesiness and therefore I am torn between finding it ridiculous or awesome. Maybe awesomely ridiculous?) and Lissa is quite sweet and I genuinely rooted for the two of them. I also breezed through the book quite easily.

The most positive aspect of the novel however, was definitely the frank discussions about sex that the girls had once the feud starts and the friendship that grows between them. There is an exploration about slut shaming and how harmful and unfair it is especially when considering that boys grow a positive reputation for the same sort of experience that the girls are shamed for. There are conversations about the fact that there is no normal when it comes to sex: that being a virgin is ok, that not being a virgin is ok; that liking sex is awesome and not liking it or not being prepared for it is ok too. Even though some of it comes across as perhaps too message-heavy, the overall message about sex is a very positive message that I completely, 100% agree with.

On the other hand and I am aware how is going to sound ridiculous considering that this is the very premise of the novel, it troubles me that in a modern context, sex is the weapon that girls chose to wield. That they couldn’t think of anything else they could do to stop the rivalry between the two teams like for example: youtube campaigns, riots and pickets, conversations or rallies, engaging other people in this conversation, bringing in TV crews, or radio crews to report on this ridiculous feud and so on and so forth.

It is easy to accept that aspect of the original play considering the fact that the play was written over two thousand years ago in a time where women had little political power and could not affect the outcome of the war in any other possible way. It is much harder to accept that this is the only way they can think of to stop this war (which is not even a war AT ALL, only a silly rivalry) in a modern context. Not a single girl even offers an alternative.

Although it is brought up at different points that it is wrong to use sex as a weapon, I felt this was only partly addressed when some of the girls used it to seduce and leave the boys hanging on. I feel that there is much more to sexual politics and sex being used as a feminine weapon than simply giving guys blue balls.

Further to that, despite all the positive messages about sex and girls, and how things are complex and there is a myriad of ways of dealing with it all, I think that the main assumption that the girls can withhold sex more easily than boys goes largely unchecked. There is the idea that boys would do anything for sex, that girls are more in control and unfortunately it reeks of gender essentialism and I am unconvinced that this was explored or truly addressed in depth. This is even more plain when you consider that not a single one of these girls seem to play any sports, that the girls swear their oath on an issue of Cosmos and the boys on an issue of Sports Illustrated and that the girls seem to be more frustrated when the boys withhold conversation from them.

In the end, despite the obvious positive aspects, I felt dissatisfied with the novel as a whole.

Notable Quotes/Parts:

Randy disentangled himself from me and kicked off the comforter that was spread over us. I watched as he climbed off my bed and moved to button his jeans.

“Where are you going?” I sat up and searched for my shirt in the sheets. Suddenly, I felt too exposed, too vulnerable.

“Shane wants me to meet up with him in the old Fifth Street parking lot. Some soccer idiots wanna start shit with us because of that freshman who hurt himself. I think it’ll be a good fight.”

“You’re ditching me to go fight with soccer players?” I asked, incredulously. I yanked my t-shirt over my head and turned to stare at him. “I thought you were trying to prove that I came first.”

“I did,” he said. “I came here first, didn’t I? I could’ve gone straight to the fight, but I came to see my girl.” He walked over to me and leaned down, kissing me on the cheek. “And we had a good time, right?”

“No, you had a good –”

“I’ll call you later,” he said. “I was here longer than I expected to be – not that I’m complaining, but Shane’s waiting on me. I’ll see you tomorrow. I love you.”

He tried to kiss me again, but I jerked away.

Randy sighed and shook his head. “Don’t be like this, Lissa,” he said, then he turned and walked out of my bedroom door.

I started to go after him. I jumped out of bed, momentarily determined to give him a piece of my mind, but stopped in the doorway. I took a deep breath and forced it all back, forced myself to stay in control.

But a minute later – as the front door slammed downstairs and the sound of Randy walking toward his car on the corner street wafted up through my window – I knew this was the last time I would be left behind for this war. I had to do something about it. Put a stop to the stupidity. Get Randy out of this trap he was in. For him. For both of us.

And I knew just how to do it.

Rating: I am torn. I think I will go right bang in the middle with a 5.


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  • Slayra
    August 22, 2011 at 5:38 am

    I haven’t read this book, but as far as plot goes I can see why Keplinger would go for her female characters withholding sex from the boyfriends. Besides the fact that it is a retelling that is. I mean, realistically they could have campaigned and rioted all they wanted and while that would be a fair form of protest if the intervenients were older or the issue more serious and global (instead of personal), I doubt it would work on teenager boys, who pretty much think about sex most of the day in one form or another.

    I think other forms of protest wouldn’t have been nearly as effective. But I do agree, the girls should have at least suggested some other alternatives. 😛 😯

  • bram
    August 22, 2011 at 8:59 am

    I think that the fact that it’s retelling shouldn’t be used as an excuse to reproduce relatively uncritically the sexual politics of a book written thousands of years ago. It’s an amazing concept and project – Keplinger should have taken this opportunity to delve more thoughtfully into the kinds of sexual politics and cultural myths that teaches girls that sex can and should be used as a weapon (primary weapon), even when they live in an era where so many other options are available to them. It seems that rather Keplinger played it straight, and then used it to once again preach about slut-shaming and other such issues, which, while extremely important to talk about, really needs a deeper engagement than what Keplinger seems to be able to handle (having read the Duff).

  • Phoebe
    August 22, 2011 at 11:27 am

    I, personally, consider the most troubling aspects of the play when taken out of its historical context: 1) sex is more important to men than to women and women are able to withstand lack of sexual release more easily; and 2) the fact that sex can be used as a feminine weapon.

    I was talking to my husband about the retelling, and he told me that he read in an Ancient Greek history course that the humor of the actual play largely derived from the fact that Greeks viewed female sexual hungers as insatiable–the premise itself was actually something viewed as comedic, and wasn’t meant to be taken seriously, though it’s usually viewed that way through our modern lens. All that (unsourced anecdote) said, I’m not sure that the fake that sex is used as a weapon is precisely problematic–is it a feminist failing to acknowledge that sex could be used that way–aggressively or manipulatively? I . . . don’t think it is. For either Aristophanes or Keplinger.

    (Also, I think I recall one of the girls being a basketball player. But I might have imagined that.)

  • Phoebe
    August 22, 2011 at 11:30 am

    The fact, rather.

  • Allison
    August 23, 2011 at 6:00 am

    This book was very meh for me too, so you don’t have to worry about being alone on this one!

  • John
    August 23, 2011 at 7:08 am

    I enjoyed The DUFF, but I did feel like the hype machine let me down on it. I’m actually still working on my review for it. It’s a hard thing to tackle because Keplinger takes the time to address a *lot* in her books. It just isn’t always stuff I think needs to be addressed in the story.

    Shut Out is one that I’ve heard a few people say didn’t resonate them as much. I thought it was interesting since Meg Wolitzer recently published a retelling of it, The Uncoupling. It sounded interesting to me, but it was more magical realism and involved performing the play with effects…as opposed to a direct retelling of the play.

    I can live with using sex as a weapon. I don’t think there’s anything WRONG with saying that girls can use it as a weapon. To me, it would depend on if they discussed it, still wanted it, and/or someone(s) would have broken the pact because they themselves would still want the sex. Realistically, the premise is questionable. I think it would have worked more in a heavier plot premise that would make the anti-sex signify MORE than what it does.

    That being said, at the end of the day her writing is fun, and I think that she does wonderfully explore sexual-positive issues. Heavy-handed sometimes, but still issues we aren’t seeing explored enough.

  • Marissa
    October 9, 2013 at 11:05 am

    i havent fully read the book, but i am actually enjoying it. i am doing a book report on it in two days. hope i finish it by then.

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