Thursday, April 05, 2007

Books: Commercial Girl

Another in the long line of teen books I've been reading.

Theme: Girl meets boys

Plot: Juwita is smart and beautiful, but she faces a major obstacle to success: she has no money. Guys keep falling for her, though, and is it her fault if they want to give her cash? She gets through medical school pretty much by taking donations from men. Now she's graduating and ready to start her own life. Whom among her benefactors will she choose to start it with?

Discussion: Indonesia teenlit has problems when it comes to "loose" women, because there seems to be a rule that you can't have physical contact. I read this book a while ago, and as far as I can recall it doesn't have a single kiss in it. So it's a little hard to figure out why these guys are falling all over themselves to give Juwita money for a platonic relationship. She makes no bones about asking, either - when an older man wants to buy her a fancy gown, she says "A person like me needs money more than an expensive dress."

The book walks an interesting and rather brave moral line, however. Juwita faces danger a couple of times in her interactions with men. But she's never really punished, and the book doesn't seem to take a disapproving tone toward her. She knows her own worth and doesn't angle for cash; she always waits for the man to offer. In the end she marries the one guy who hasn't tried to purchase her affections. So she emerges 'clean' in spite of it all.

To me, this seems similar to the way people tolerate noodle vendors pushing carts down the middle of the highway or hawkers selling newspapers at stoplights. Poor people do whatever they can to survive, and Indonesians generally seem pretty willing to let them do it.

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