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The Hunk & The Virgin
by Muriel Jensen
(Harl. American #770, $3.99, PG) ISBN 0-373-16770-9
****
I love a good debate, so it's not going to be easy for me to review The Hunk & The Virgin without reviewing the life philosophy that the book more or less espouses. But author Muriel Jensen did an admirable job of not turning her novel into a soapbox, so I'm going to try for the same restraint.

Kathy McQuade is a twenty-six year old virgin. And she's not just a "technical" virgin either – she's the real deal. She's kissed a few guys, but that's it. What's more, she's written a book about virginity. This book, called "The Virgin Returns," began as an academic thesis and evolved into a book as Kathy decided that young people needed to be made aware of some options concerning their sex lives.

It's a great credit to Ms. Jensen that Kathy is not a prude, a priss, a moralizing, judgmental evangelist, or a naοve and stammering child. Instead, she's a mature, sensible, extremely likable woman with a mind of her own. She's made her own decisions about how she wants to live her life, but she's not knocking anyone else's choices. She just wants to increase awareness of an idea that's become unpopular.

Kathy has sold her book to a small, struggling publishing house, London Publishing, and "The Virgin Returns" may just be their first hit in years. Due to its controversial subject matter, it immediately garners media attention, and a radio "shock jock" issues a challenge to single men to charm Kathy into changing her mind. The owners of London Publishing, three elderly sisters, feel that Kathy may be in some danger on her upcoming book publicity tour, so they turn to their nephew, a former Special Forces operative who now works in the family business.

Gib London isn't exactly thrilled by his new position as the virgin's bodyguard. In fact, he isn't all that happy that his aunts bought "The Virgin Returns" in the first place, and he definitely thinks the expensive book tour is a mistake. But he's quite fond of and loyal to his aunts, so he reluctantly agrees to the assignment.

Thus, Kathy and Gib (along with Kathy's mother as chaperone) are going to be sharing some close quarters for the four weeks of the tour. From the beginning, they're a mismatched pair. Kathy believes in love, deep commitment, and ideally marriage before sex. Gib doesn't believe in love at all, having experienced a privileged but lonely childhood, and he considers Kathy's ideas outdated, unrealistic, and even narrow-minded. But both of them know how to act like adults, so their interactions – thankfully – consist of spirited verbal sparring rather than screeching childish fits.

Both of these likeable characters experience satisfying growth in the course of the story. For the first time in her life, Kathy experiences the kind of intense attraction to a man that might just make her rethink her decisions, or at least better understand the choices of others. Gib has a longer road to travel – he has to learn that love does indeed exist, and that he might even be capable of it, himself.

The Hunk & The Virgin accomplishes a remarkable feat – it manages to be both thought-provoking and light-hearted. It's a fun and easy read, well written and well conceived. The various book tour activities, such as interviews and press conferences, are woven skillfully into the story, and the focus always remains on Kathy and Gib's developing relationship, rather than on the controversy of the virginity issue. Indeed, the virginity issue is a factor in their relationship, rather than a tacked-on, irrelevant plot point – and not just because Kathy doesn't want to have sex with Gib. It represents a major difference in the way they look at life – a difference that must be resolved for their relationship to work.

Near the end of the book, there are a few plot developments involving Kathy's mother that seem a bit unlikely and even intrusive, and they're handled in a somewhat pat and implausible way. Although they do serve to strengthen and elongate the conflict between Kathy and Gib, it all felt rather artificial. But this slight misstep wasn't nearly enough to spoil my enjoyment of the story. If you're in the mood for a light, interesting book with well-developed and enjoyable characters, give this one a try.

-- Ellen Hestand


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