For Ages
14 to 99

A girl rewrites sex education, one viral post at a time, in this fiercely honest and delightfully awkward novel from the award-winning author of Words on Bathroom Walls.

Phoebe Townsend is a rule follower . . . or so everyone thinks. She’s an A student who writes for her small-town school newspaper. But what no one knows is that Phoebe is also Pom—the anonymous teen who’s rewriting sex education on her blog and social media.

Phoebe is not a pervert. No, really. Her unconventional hobby is just a research obsession. And sex should not be a secret. As long as Phoebe stays undercover, she’s sure she’ll fly through junior year unnoticed. . . .

That is, until Pom goes viral, courtesy of mayoral candidate Lydia Brookhurst. The former beauty queen labels Phoebe’s work an “assault on morality,” riling up her supporters and calling on Pom to reveal her identity. But Phoebe is not backing down. With her anonymity on the line, is it all worth the fight?

Julia Walton delivers a brutally honest novel about sex, social media, and the courage to pursue truth when misinformation is rife. Who knew truth could be so scandalous?

An Excerpt fromOn the Subject of Unmentionable Things

1

I thought about making my second tweet a little-­known fact about the human penis. But I changed my mind.

There were hundreds of alerts on my phone, my follower count was climbing by the second, and I didn’t want to lean into my new “viral” success with a fact about male genitalia.

Starting with something about the male body, no matter how obscure, seemed like a betrayal. I mean, focusing the study of sex on men is what everyone expects you to do. Because it’s what everyone else does. Right?

I looked at the sentence I was about to post and deleted it. I’d only ever wanted to have my blog, The Circle in the Square, as a depository for my research, not a Twitter account. But everything changed when someone alerted Lydia Brookhurst, our wealthy town embarrassment, to the existence of my work.

“Phoebe, maybe you’d fall less if you weren’t texting while rollerblading?” Cora sped past me and swerved to an elegant stop that made her look like part figure skater, part hockey player, and complete badass.

Meanwhile, my follower count jumped by a thousand in a five-­minute time span.

What. Life. Is. This.

I lost my balance and fell spectacularly on my ass, still clenching my phone in my fist.

Cora looked down at my face.

“Actually,” she said, “you’re fine. Keep texting.” Then she leaned forward to pull me up.

“I miss our old Thursday routine,” I complained, still clutching my phone. I could almost feel it pulsing in my hands, even though I’d turned vibrate off hours ago.

Cora had no idea what secrets I was hiding, but she’d definitely know something was up if I missed our regular Thursday plans. Even though I was still bitter that we’d been forced to change them.

Thursdays used to be for romantic comedies. We’d spend hours eating junk food and watching people fall predictably in love with their worst enemies. But when Cora’s parents threatened to sign her up for yet another beach cleanup group because they were afraid she was spending too much time inside and not enough time communing with nature, we decided to try something else.

“Rollerblading?” I’d whined.

“It is making a comeback,” she’d said. “And it’s fun!”

It is not, I’d thought.

“And can you believe I found these two brand-­new pairs of Rollerblades by a dumpster?”

Yep. I definitely can.

My butt cheeks might be permanently bruised from our first week on wheels, and even though I can mostly move without falling now, she’s probably right about the texting.

But if she knew what was happening right now on my phone, she’d—­

“Oh my God, Phoebe! You’re never going to believe this,” Cora shouted.

She let go of my hand, and once again I fell hard on my ass. Exact same spot.

I stared up at the sky with my ponytail pressed against the pavement, wondering if I’d ever be able to sit comfortably again and why I’d chosen to sacrifice a butt cheek for the sake of our friendship.

“Pom! The one who writes The Circle in the Square is from Linda Vista!” she screamed.

“No way,” I said—­convincinly, I hoped.

That had been an accident. I’d posted my bio, but I hadn’t meant to post my location. By then it was too late to fix it.

Pom

@CircleintheSquare

Author of The Circle in the Square: Sex Ed for Teens by a Teen

Linda Vista, California

I wanted to tell Cora it was me. I really did. At least that’s what I told myself.

If I’d actually wanted her to know, I would have told her when this whole thing started. Back when I created the blog.

But I’d kept it a secret.

I was grateful that Cora couldn’t see me sweating under­neath my helmet, and secretly jealous that she was doing elegant figure eights in the empty church parking lot.

“Oooh . . .” She whistled, stopping to look down at her phone.

Lydia Brookhurst had posted a link to The Circle in the Square with the comment:

@TheRealLydiaBrookhurst: Look at this blog! This is disgusting. I miss the old days where people understood that constantly talking about sex leads to more sex. Obviously!

So this morning I’d responded with:

@CircleintheSquare: Ah yes, the old days of crabs and gonorrhea and other rampant STDs. I too am nostalgic. Obviously!

A few people retweeted this, and then Brookhurst responded with a flood of hypothetical questions:

@TheRealLydiaBrookhurst: Do we really need to talk about condoms in school?

@TheRealLydiaBrookhurst: Isn’t talking about safe sex just another way of telling our kids we think it’s okay for them to have as much sex as they want?

@TheRealLydiaBrookhurst: YES! SEX IS FOR PROCREATION. WHY IS THIS SO HARD TO UNDERSTAND?

@TheRealLydiaBrookhurst: SEXUAL RISK AVOIDANCE IS THE ONLY ADVICE THEY NEED!

Ah yes. All caps. The language of agitated people. It’s almost as if someone screaming on the internet will, in fact, have an effect on whether anyone has sex. And fun fact: abstinence-­only sex education is also called sexual risk avoidance education. That’s the more modern term that means no sex is the only sex teens should be having or thinking about.

Can we just accept that the sex is going to happen anyway?

Because it is.

Can we also assume that teenagers look for answers to very basic questions that are both embarrassing and reasonable?

Because they do.

The “wait until you’re married” and the “you’re too young to know about this stuff” groups are making the issue less about sex and more about control. They think that the minute you know about it, you’ll want it, so they want to control how much information you get and when you get it.

The response to curiosity should be: “Here’s the information. Safety first.”

Not: “Nothing to see here! Move along!”

@TheRealLydiaBrookhurst: If we allow this blog, where do we draw the line?

@TheRealLydiaBrookhurst: Don’t let Linda Vista become Los Angeles!

Judging from the responses to Brookhurst’s posts, there were a lot of people who agreed with me.

@OrangeSwedishFish75: Reading the blog now—­so good!

@Salgoudthetalldude03: @CircleintheSquare is. . Don’t @ me Brookhurst.

@EclairQueen_21: Pom is a genius

“Phoebe. Look at this! Pom has only existed a few hours. Hours! Everyone we know is following this account! Brookhurst must be so pissed!”

So as I stood there trying to keep my balance on Rollerblades that Cora had found by a dumpster, I watched my follower count climb.

Cora eventually drove me home, promising to update me on all the Brookhurst-­related drama later.

She had no idea she’d be updating me on my own blog, which, as I later found out, had more visits in one day than it had in its entire lifetime.

Under the Cover