The Virgins

Published by Tin House Books in 2013.
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  • A New York Times Editor's Choice selection
  • A Chicago Tribune Editor's Choice selection
  • Finalist, John Gardner Fiction Book Award
  • A Best Book of 2013, The New Yorker
  • A Best Book of 2013, The New Republic
  • A Critics' Choice selection for 2013, Salon
  • A Best Indie Title of 2013, Library Journal
  • One of  "10 Essential Coming-of-Age Novels for Adults,” Huffington Post 
  • One of the 50 Greatest Summer Reads of All Time, Flavorwire
  • One of Redbook's "Top Ten Beach Reads of 2013"
  • One of O Magazine's "Ten Titles to Pick Up Now," August 2013
  • Featured in The Millions's "Most-Anticipated" List 2013
  • A "This Week's Hot Reads" selection, The Daily Beast
  • A Vanity Fair Hot Type selection
  • Selected as April 2014's Great Read by The Australian Women's Weekly

From the publisher:
It’s 1979, and Aviva Rossner and Seung Jung are notorious at Auburn Academy. They’re an unlikely pair at an elite East Coast boarding school (she’s Jewish; he’s Korean American) and hardly shy when it comes to their sexuality. Aviva is a formerly bookish girl looking for liberation from an unhappy childhood; Seung is an enthusiastic dabbler in drugs and a covert rebel against his demanding immigrant parents. In the minds of their titillated classmates—particularly Bruce Bennett-Jones—the couple lives in a realm of pure, indulgent pleasure. But, as is often the case, their fabled relationship is more complicated than it seems: despite their lust and urgency, their virginity remains intact, and as they struggle to understand each other, the relationship spirals into disaster.

The Virgins is the story of Aviva and Seung’s descent into confusion and shame, as re-imagined in richly detailed episodes by the once-embittered, now repentant Bruce. With unflinching honesty and breathtaking prose, Pamela Erens brings a fresh voice to the tradition of the great boarding school novel.


“The Virgins is both skillfully crafted and dangerous . . . . Pamela Erens [has] told a devastating story. The Virgins is a brutal book, but it’s flawlessly executed and irrefutably true.”
— John Irving, New York Times Book Review   Read the full review


“It's rare to find a book that summons the delicate emotional state of teenagers—especially when it comes to sex—without being precious or cynical, but Pamela Erens’ The Virgins beautifully manages that feat.”
Los Angeles Times   Read the full review


“Adroitly capturing the anguish of adolescent desire, Erens’s latest is a lesson in love, loss, and tragedy.”
Publishers Weekly


“The Virgins encourages its readers to feel as frenzied, and libidinous, and strung out as a 17-year-old in the throes of first lust. This small, smart masterpiece is a beautiful shot of adrenaline—with a terrifying come down.”
The New Republic, Best Books of 2013


“Stunning . . . Erens brilliantly captures the dark side of adolescence . . . On a par with the likes of Jeffrey Eugenides’ The Virgin Suicides or Sheila Kohler’s Cracks . . . a devastating tour de force.”
The Independent (UK)   Read the full review


“Perhaps it is going too far to say that The Virgins is primarily about the fundamental flaws of white, male narrators in fiction. It is also about sex, fear—especially of authority—class, desire, shame and jealousy. But in reveling in the power of narrative, the book asks the reader to think about who is—and who has been—allowed to wield it.”
The New York Observer   Read the full review


“Erens's novel is at once shocking and familiar, her prose bald, explicit and searingly honest. Best of all, she excels at encapsulating the tumultuous emotions of sexual awakening in all its rawness.”
The Sunday Times (UK)


“Erens writes with great believability and sensitivity about the teenage years, when school and family pressures, along with sexual awakening, can seem like life-and-death issues. Whether she's describing a visit to an ice cream stand or Seung and Aviva’s explorations of lovemaking, her prose is sensual and lyrical . . . Many readers will want to investigate this work.”
Library Journal


“Captivating.”
Booklist   Read the full review


“With The Virgins, Pamela Erens’ intricate second novel, she has done a star turn with the prep school tale, giving it meaning for those who might not usually care about that world.”
Chicago Tribune   Read the full review


“This newest addition to the ‘boarding school novels we love’ category mixes the unsettling drama of A Separate Peace with the sexual juiciness of Prep . . . . The dark twist of an ending will haunt you for days.”
Redbook.com


“Pamela Erens paints an arresting portrait of adolescent sexuality—at once beautiful, erotic, awkward, and shameful . . . . The Virgins reads like a prep school Othello, set to a soundtrack of Devo and Jethro Tull.”
Los Angeles Review of Books   Read the full review


“This novel has struck a brilliant new seam . . . Erens wonderfully evokes the lethal cocktail of adolescent desire, loneliness and bitter envy.”
The Times (UK)


“[Erens] manages a delicate bit of witchcraft such that, by halfway through the novel, our fingertips are humming on the page.”
The Guardian (UK)  Read the full review


“To read The Virgins is to be reminded of the way that, to young people in a certain state of mind, any small threshold in life can be eroticized . . . . The virgins themselves are tender, flawed, and very likeable.”
Slate   Read the full review


“The unconventional structure of the novel—it is a study in voyeurism and the stories we construct with only limited information—lends it an eerie, sensual quality. So do the characters, whose simultaneous yet varying sexual awakenings are tinged with sadness, and, as we soon learn, eventual tragedy.”
The Daily Beast   Read the full review


“A must for fans of Nabokovian tragedy.”
Irish Tatler


“Erens brilliantly captures that time when someone is determined to give up virginity and how all-consuming sex becomes.”
New Jersey Star-Ledger   Read the full review


“With a lyrical voice, Pamela Erens has written a novel about first love and sexual awakening that is multilayered and perceptive . . . . The slim book is thickly layered with prose that intrigues and mind and captivates the senses.”
ForeWord Magazine


“Virginity is treated with . . . grace and subtlety in Pamela Erens’s latest novel, The Virgins (Tin House Books), a beautifully written story about two outcasts who form an all-consuming bond at an exclusive boarding school, as told, in secretive, sweaty detail, by a rather odious classmate.”
Vulture.com


“Subtle, accomplished . . . Martin Scorsese famously deemed The Age of Innocence the most violent of his films, and a similar sort of violence animates The Virgins: it is ultimately a novel about the terrible damage people inflict on each other when they stand together at the edge of social upheaval.”
Bookforum.com   Read the full review


The Virgins is an extraordinary novel working on so many levels that once completed, you want to read it all over again to catch the nuances."
The Australian Women's Weekly 


“With patient, fearless prose, Erens manages to deliver a story that takes adolescent love as something serious in its own right, something that comes with its own set of consequences, without equating it to adult love.”
Chicago Reader   Read the full review


“This is The Virgins' greatest lesson, one of life’s great tragedies: What’s keeping us from fulfillment isn’t our teachers, the rules, or our judgmental, restrictive society. It’s ourselves.”
The Rumpus   Read the full review


“This elegant new novel by Pamela Erens . . . defies niche or genre . . . Erens does so many more interesting things than the usual exploration of class and teen angst, not least the creation of an utterly original female protagonist, the spiky, seductive, cringe-producing Aviva Rossner . . . . The novel speaks of both the literal unknowability of others, and the extraordinary possibilities of intuition. Even though Bennett-Jones can’t possibly know much of what he describes, we believe he’s right, somehow. The Virgins reminded me how gratifying it is to fall into a good novel—one that feeds the senses and makes us think.”
The Common   Read the full review


“[The Virgins] is an intimate and remarkably harrowing account of the search for the emerging self.”
Bookslut   Read the full review


“Like A Separate Peace, The Virgins does shape up to be a potential classic. . . . In this engaging story of blossoming sexuality Erens has created the perfect incubator in which we can examine the various, troublesome ways teens navigate the new territory of their bodies.”
Gently Read Literature


“Pamela Erens’sThe Virgins is impressive for many reasons—strong narrative writing, suspenseful plotting and fully human characters—but perhaps one of the most remarkable things about it is her incredible knowledge of sex from the point of view of both genders. . . . I can’t recall a recent novel in which I was so thoroughly engaged as The Virgins.
Necessary Fiction   Read the full review


The Virgins is a startlingly good novel that draws on some hallowed literary traditions, and completely transcends them.”
Chronogram (Hudson Valley)   Read the full review


“Erens’s handling of the characters' sexuality and the grace with which she handles the sex scenes—with teenagers—deserves a separate round of applause. She expertly surprises and surprises us again, all while making each moment seem organic and true.”
Painted Bride Quarterly   Read the full review


“I came upon this novel after reading John Irving’s stellar review in the New York Times. He compares the book to A Separate Peace by John Knowles. If you read that years ago in Lit class and loved it as much as I did, then I urge you to read The Virgins as well. I would also compare the novel to John Nichols' The Sterile Cuckoo. Both were adapted for film and I hope The Virgins shares the same fate. This is some of the strongest literary fiction I’ve read in a while, and for that I congratulate the author, Pamela Erens.”
— Tattered Cover (Denver) staff recommendation   Read the full blog entry


“Now that James Salter is in his twilight years, his considerable fan base will be ecstatic to encounter his heiress apparent, Pamela Erens, whose erotically charged prose reaches for naming the ineffable, honoring the elusive, and celebrating the bodily majesty of life. An extraordinary novel.”
— Antonya Nelson, author of Bound


“Suspenseful and swift and well made, The Virgins, Pamela Erens’s exciting new fiction, rachets up the heat on the boarding school novel with ferociously sensual descriptions of frustrated love—love imagined and love experienced. Easy to fall for this book and fall hard.”
— Christine Schutt, author of Prosperous Friends


The Virgins is a stunningly beautiful novel. It is precisely observed, skillfully constructed, and brilliantly written. This is possibly the best novel of the many good ones set in a New England prep school, that terrain of elegance and envy, of flowering and blight.”
— John Casey, National Book Award-winning author of Spartina


“A sensual and haunting story of sexual awakening, Pamela Erens’s exquisitely written The Virgins vividly captures the thrill of youthful innocence and the crushing pain of its loss. This is a profound—and profoundly moving—novel.
I couldn’t put it down, and I didn’t want it to end.”
— Will Allison, author of Long Drive Home


“Like the unforgettable Aviva Rossner, The Virgins is small but not slight—intense, sublime, vivid, uncanny, irresistible. It joins the ranks of the great boarding school novels while somehow evoking the twisted, obsessive narrations of Nabokov’s Pale Fire or Wharton’s Ethan Frome. Pamela Erens is that rare writer who can articulate—and gorgeously—the secrets we never knew about ourselves.”
— Rebecca Makkai, author of The Borrower