The year Kathy Dobie turned 14, she had one thing on her mind: boys. Teenagers, grown men, it didn't matter. She wanted them all, and she sent the message loud and clear with halter tops and swaying hips.

They took the bait and came running.

In her first book, a memoir called The Only Girl in the Car, Dobie describes the pivotal period in her life when the world of sex opened before her, and she plunged in with abandon. It was a heady time full of experiences far beyond the scope of her proper Catholic family, who didn't suspect a thing.

Dobie's upbringing was typical for the 1970s: a suburban Connecticut home, five brothers and sisters, a father who worked while her mother stayed home. Tired of being a dutiful daughter and big sister, Dobie rebelled against the wholesome image. She longed for danger and recklessness, spending her evenings at the smoky teen center, watching the guys play pool and imagining her body pressed up against them. Before long, she wasn't just imagining.

"As far as I was concerned, I was doing exactly what the boys were doing, which meant I was as alive, as bold, as free, as they were," she writes.

On an unforgettable March night, riding in a car full of those teen center boys, she got more than she bargained for. The experience resonated far beyond that bitterly cold evening, changing the course of her life forever.

With fresh, lively prose and a thoughtful delivery, Dobie manages to capture the eagerness and childlike trust that led her into danger, and the mental toughness and fortitude that helped her recover. What's striking about the book is that Dobie, who has written for Harper's, The Village Voice, Salon and other magazines, delves so honestly and fearlessly into a young girl's sexual experiences and attitudes. She doesn't shy away from the image she presents of herself as a reckless, eager teen with no regard for reputation or restraint.

Instead, by telling her story candidly, Dobie captures the complicated reality of a girl who's impulsive and dreamy, honest and true to a fault. Her memoir ultimately is more than a coming-of-age story. Eloquent and sharp, The Only Girl in the Car is a lyrically rendered, candid book about teenage sexuality, and one girl with enough courage to strike out on her own and keep going. Rebecca Denton is a newspaper reporter who lives in Nashville.

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