Sandpiper Review

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Seventeen-year-old Sandpiper Hollow Ragsdale has a bad reputation. Even Sandpiper's younger sister Daisy knows that kids at the high school call her older sister a slut. Sandpiper has figured out that giving oral sex to guys can get her some much-needed attention and a sort of power. The only problem is that she doesn't even like the guys she "dates," and she's more than willing to dump them after a few days or weeks. That kind of approach doesn't fly with her most recent boyfriend, Derek, who thinks that Sandpiper owes him --- and his friends --- even more.
Sandpiper certainly can't talk to her parents about Derek's threats or about the reasons for her self-degrading sexual behavior. Her mom is getting remarried and can only think about plans for the upcoming lavish wedding. Her stepfather-to-be, Nathan, brings his daughter Rachel into town for the wedding. Rachel is everything Sandpiper isn't --- cute, petite, perky, the kind of girl who pleases parents and waits until marriage for sex. Sandpiper's father, Rags, has plenty of problems of his own --- he's a serial dater of younger women, and he doesn't know how to even look at Sandpiper now that she's developed breasts.
Then Sandpiper meets a mysterious loner simply called the Walker, because he walks incessantly around their small Massachusetts town, refusing to ride in cars even in the pouring rain. She doesn't know anything about Walker's past, not even his real name (at first); all she knows is that he offers her platonic friendship without any sexual demands. When Derek starts to act on his threats, Walker and Sandpiper must come clean about their pasts so that they can help each other and find a new, more genuine kind of relationship.
Sandpiper's own narration of her story alternates with her autobiographical poetry, often written in the style of famous poems ("The Love Song of Piper H. Ragsdale," for example). Surprisingly, the novel doesn't offer Piper's poetic gifts as healthier opportunities for her to increase her own self-worth, instead focusing on family and genuine romantic relationships as the best solutions. Both the characters of Derek and Walker are taken to extremes; Derek is a one-dimensional thug, and Walker is a little too wise and philosophical for his years. Piper herself, though, is a complex, sympathetic (if not always entirely likeable) character.
Ellen Wittlinger's novels for teens don't shy away from tough subjects. In SANDPIPER Wittlinger explores the current widespread belief that oral sex is not "real sex." The novel's subject matter and its weighty tone make it appropriate for older teens.
--- Reviewed by Norah Piehl

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