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Truth or Dare

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B eware the teenage girl at the drugstore counter holding a fistful of cosmetics: She just might be the nymphomaniacal, self-esteem-challenged hostess of a rainbow party, those now-infamous group gatherings in which girls, each wearing a different shade of lipstick, give guys blowjobs, leaving a multicolored party favor on their respective penises. Oprah Winfrey introduced the concept to uninitiated adults on an episode that also defined “hoovering,” “booty calls” and “salad tossing.” On another special designed to enlighten clueless parents, Katie Couric proclaimed that “for several years, we’ve been hearing mind-bending stories of rampant oral sex among teens. ”
   Now there’s Paul Ruditis’ young-adult novel Rainbow Party, a self-described “cautionary tale.” Judging from the reviews on Amazon.com, scores of parents seem to agree with “Sane” from Spokane, Washington, who wrote, “A parent who buys this for a child should be jailed.” Then there’s the dad who says he doesn’t want his two sons “giving or getting oral sex when they’re teenagers. Or ever, for that matter.”
    Everyone can get into a tizzy if they want to, but here’s the thing: These parties might not even exist, at least not on any epidemic scale. We don’t know how many of the fifty girls interviewed for Oprah’s show had actually been to one. As a health writer and editor for a major teen magazine, I’ve interviewed hundreds of teenagers over the last three years, and none of them know anyone who has.
    “I wasn’t able to confirm any students that particularly participated in these parties,” admits Ruditis, who heard about them for the first time in a brainstorming meeting with editors at SimonPulse, the book’s publisher. The author, whose past books include TV tie-ins like Roswell Pop Quiz and The West Wing: The Official Companion, didn’t talk to any teenagers for the book. (And, fearful of right-wing backlash — he is “not a very political person” — he hasn’t spoken to any since). Instead, Ruditis’s research consisted of talking to “a lot of teachers . . . whose students have heard about these things, these parties.”
    Right.

It was denounced as “smut for your teen.”

    In the novel, bad boy Hunter finds out about rainbow parties from an unnamed TV show. He convinces Gin, the quintessential Mean Girl and his occasional sex partner, to hold such an event at her house. For the next 250 pages, a dozen invitees struggle with peer pressure, libidos and stage fright as they decide whether or not to attend. Skye, who has lost her virginity to a cheating boyfriend, wants to prove she’s attractive. Inexperienced Rose, who has barely gone beyond kissing the boyfriend she’s been “dating” since fourth grade, idealizes the shindig as a Sex-and-the-City style bonding experience, noting that “there is something to be said about having other girls around for support.” In the meantime, Skye regularly pleasures Rod (yes, that’s his name). During one of their heated encounters, here’s what happens: "Skye’s bosom heaved. Her loins burned with desire. Waves of pleasure washed over her body, ready to crash to the shore."
    The hyperreality of all this teen fornication is just too much for conservatives to handle. In a much-blogged-about column, pundit Michelle Malkin (who admits she didn’t read the book) denounced it as “smut for your teen,” claiming it would inspire adolescents to throw rainbow parties of their own. She and her right-wing cronies relish this opportunity to fault “Godless Liberals … for removing decency and morality from the public square,” in the words of one Amazon reviewer. (They might be disappointed to know that lots of godless liberal parents would take equal issue with a book that opens with the lines “Gin took the slender shaft of the tube in her palm. She gave a

There’s something reprehensibly Reefer Madness about Rainbow Party.

gentle tug along the base and watched as the lipstick extended to its full length.”) But Malkin’s nightmare is unlikely to come true: even in the book, the big event never actually happens. A school-wide STD outbreak scares everyone straight, and our anti-heroine becomes a social pariah.
    YA books have been panned and banned forever — sure hasn’t hurt Judy Blume. Predictably, Rainbow Party‘s Amazon sales rank is climbing steadily, and it recently climbed into the top 100 on barnesandnoble.com. But what Ruditis calls his “mass-market approach” is a polite way of saying the book is filled with cloying descriptions and melodramatic clichés.
    Yet painful as it is to read — and there is something reprehensibly Reefer Madness about the way Rainbow Party was conceived — all the heavy-handed sentimentality is inadverently revealing. Ultimately, the book pulls a switcheroo on its own theme. Instead of revealing the empty depravity of today’s teens, Rainbow Party illustrates a fundamental flaw about both liberal and conservative sex education. For all their sexual bravado, most teenagers (like most adults?) are hopeless romantics. They believe, as Rainbow Party says, “Sex. It changed everything.”
   Back in the real world, one teen girl recently told me that she and her friends have oral sex with guys because they are “afraid of the emotional ramifications of regular sex.” In an effort to keep them pure, we’ve promised teens that losing their virginity will be the ultimate moment of their young lives. It’s a lot, perhaps too much, to live up to.  



To buy Rainbow Party, click here.

©2005 Kara Jesella and Nerve.com.