How can she convince him to wait until they are both ready?
Norma Mazer (arguably the more famous half of the YA Mazers) output was at its height during the 1970s and 80s, primetime for dealing with sex, drugs, terrible parents and other difficult situations. In comparison to some of her other work, this one is less weird and salacious, although the heroine’s attempts to assert her own personality and preferences wear pretty well 35+ years later.
The Plot: 15 year old Finn Rousseau has been playing peacemaker in her working-class Syracuse, NY family ever since her older sister Maggie moved out to “shack up” with her boyfriend, much to their parents’ disapproval. While they haven’t outright forbidden Finn to see her sister, they both constantly bemoan the fact that Maggie is bringing disgrace upon their family.
Maggie’s boyfriend, Jim, seems pretty benign: a hard-working medical student and all-round nice guy. The trouble starts when Seth, Jim’s 19 year old brother, moves in with the couple and he and Finn have an instantaneous mutual attraction.
Unlike his industrious brother, Seth is a high school drop-out, who has spent the past year hitchhiking around the country and trying out various jobs. Although definitely smart enough to go to college and achieve his father’s dream of becoming a lawyer, Seth has moved to Syracuse to get a job only long enough to save up enough money to buy a farm in Vermont.
Finn’s friends and family discourage her pursuit of Seth, because he is too old, lacks traditional ambition and comes from the kind of family that approves of “shacking up”. They would much rather see her with class lothario Jerry Demas, who is Eddie Haskall-like in his come-ons:
“I’ve been thinking about you, babes,” Jerry said. “Guess where I am right now. Lying here on my bed.” He dropped his voice. “Wish you were here.”
Although she made out with Jerry at a New Year’s Eve party, Finn regards him as rather ridiculous and resents the fact that her BFF, Vida, keeps pushing them together so they can double-date with her steady, Paul.
While Finn remains firm in her convictions that she’s not ready to go “all the way” with anyone, the messages about sex are maddeningly contradictory, as Vida warns her that because Seth is older and more experienced he’ll expect more, while continuing to try to convince her to give in to Jerry’s advances, while also admitting that sex with Paul isn’t all that it’s cracked up to be:
“We did it. I didn’t feel like it, but Paul did. After, Finn, I felt so depressed, and Paul didn’t even notice. That made it even worse.”
“Why’d you do it if you didn’t want to?”
“You don’t know, do you?” Vida said. “You’ll find out. You can’t just say yes one day, and no thank you the next.”
After a string of chance meetings, Finn and Seth start to secretly see each other, usually at his job at a local cafeteria. They are able to get away with sneaking around because Finn’s mother works afternoons and her father is a long-haul trucker, away for weeks at a time. Finn is wracked with guilt about lying to her mother, but when her parents figure it out, they forbid her from seeing Seth.
Finn expects her sister to support their relationship, but Maggie reveals that she is a lot more conventional than Finn expected:
“I’ve thought it over, and I’m not going to help you, in anyway, break the rules Mom and Dad set down. I happen to think that they’re more right than wrong. My advice to you is to cool it. Just do what Mom and Dad say.”
After a fight with his brother regarding the situation, Seth packs up and moves to the titular rented room across town, excited that he and Finn will now have some privacy.
But the nay-sayers haven’t been all wrong: Finn still isn’t ready to have sex, and it causes tension in their relationship, culminating in a fight and screamed accusations of frigidity:
“You don’t even know what you’re missing! Do you think there’s something nasty about making love? The whole world’s been doing it for ten million years. It ought to be a proven thing, by now.”
“Prove it with someone else,” she choked. “The way I heard it, both people are supposed to want to.”
“And the way I heard it,” he snapped back, “girls aren’t playing prude any more.”
She was stunned. It was all over between them. All over. Just like the stories- where if the boy couldn’t get what he wanted, he turned nasty and blamed the girl.
When Seth eventually comes around to apologize, Finn doesn’t let him off the hook, and maybe he gains some self-awareness:
“The macho thing to do with a girl is never take no for an answer. Just keep trying. Wear her down one way or another.”
“That’s ugly,” she said.
“I know,” he said. “I’ve never really thought about it before.”
Finn and Seth reconcile (and the sisters reconcile with each other and their parents), and Finn and Seth spend the spring doing vaguely-described not-intercourse stuff, having presumably found a happy medium with enthusiastic consent… until Seth gets an offer to go in on a farm with his Hippie friends in Vermont, and the couple sadly parts, because he’s like the wind, babes.