Volume II Number 3
November 3, 1995

image image The First Time: Volumes I & II.

Edited by Charles Montpetit.
Victoria, B.C.: Orca Book Publishers, 1995. 147Pp / 128pp, paper, $7.95 each.
ISBN 1-55143-937-1 / 1-55143-039-8.

Subject Headings:
Youth-Sexual behavior.
Premarital sex.

Grade 10 and up / Ages 15 and up.
Review by Kathleen L. Kellett-Betsos.


I hardly need to describe the embarrassment of buying condoms, which, in the 1950s, were locked away out of sight, so they could be kept from the people who needed them most. Some kind of law also stated that when someone wanted to buy them, there would only be a female clerk on duty, usually an older woman who pretended not to hear and made you repeat your request while looking at you as if you intended to rape and dismember her....
I guess the manufacturers assumed that the condom, like the lever or the inclined plane, was self-explanatory. I'm sure the package contained no instructions. As I recall, the only printing on the back of the carton read FOR THE PREVENTION OF DISEASE. But even if there had been instructions, we probably wouldn't have used them, as I pride myself to this day on never having read the directions accompanying anything.

Kinsella Although purchasing condoms is much easier today, young readers can no doubt identify with the adolescent embarrassment of the protagonist in W.P. Kinsella's story, "The Clothesline Door," taken here from The First Time, a collection of short stories edited by Charles Montpetit, winner of the 1989 Governor General's Award for Children's Literature in French. Following up the success of La Premiere fois (Quebec/Amerique, 1991), an anthology for adolescents well received in Quebec, Montpetit here presents original stories in English by sixteen Canadian authors. The initial chapter, "Precautions," begins with the timely warning "Wear protection. There. Now that we've got this out of the way, let's move on to what this book really is about." And what this book really is about is SEX and love and growing up, each story being drawn from real life experience, although not necessarily that of the authors.

comic strip

The anthology emphasizes diversity of both content and style. Leanne Franson gives a humorous depiction of the problems of sexual orientation in her comic strip "Impeccable Taste," while Christopher Paw explores its more tragic consequences in "The Gunshot," In "Borders," Martin Stephens examines the ambivalent feelings of a man who has just discovered that the man who had abused her as a child is dead. On a more joyful note, Deirdre Kessler's "Did I or didn't I?" gives a tender but un-sublime view of lovemaking, particularly in her account of lovers accommodating their bodies to each other and to the confined space of the front seat of a car.

Even less glorious is the experience of Mary Blakeslee's protagonist in "Bump and grind", who feels "Deflowered and deflated" (Volume I), concluding that it's better to wait for the one true love. My personal favourite is "Questions and answers" by Budge Wilson, in which a mother recalls her own sexual awakening while trying to decide how to talk to her daughter about sex. I was also struck by Lyle Weis's "Nightvision" which captures the wistfulness of a young artist's memories of the older woman who had seduced him: "And lately, when I paint a woman, I have to be careful she doesn't always have Alison's face. Sometimes, I give the woman sunglasses. Sometimes, I close her eyes." Montpetit concludes with an invitation to submit stories for a third anthology

Linda Valenta

I must say that because of the explicit artwork on the covers, I felt a little uncomfortable reading these volumes on the streetcar and would imagine that many adolescents would feel the same. Also, I found Montpetit sometimes tries too hard to be "cool" in his introduction to each story, although including photos of the authors as adolescents was a great idea. Finally, aside from the inclusion of one black author, this anthology doesn't seem to have made a serious attempt to reflect the ethnic diversity of our country.

Whether The First Time is used in high school English classes or Family Studies classes, I would recommend these stories as a good starting point for the discussion of the emotional implications of sexual awakening: How do we cope with ambivalence about sexual orientation? When's the right time for the first time? And can your mother really tell just by looking at your face the morning after?


Kathleen L. Kellett-Betsos is a French Professor at Ryerson Polytechnic University in Toronto.

Read Charles Montpetit's introduction and get information on how to order The First Time books from Orca Publishers.

Copyright © 1995 the Manitoba Library Association. Reproduction for personal use is permitted only if this copyright notice is maintained. Any other reproduction is prohibited without permission.

Published by
The Manitoba Library Association
ISSN 1201-9364

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