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The Virgins

3.49  ·  Rating details ·  1,603 ratings  ·  255 reviews
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 agai ...more
Paperback, 281 pages
Published August 6th 2013 by Tin House Books
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Average rating 3.49  · 
Rating details
 ·  1,603 ratings  ·  255 reviews

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Apr 07, 2013 rated it really liked it
Ominous and sensual and very gripping. Very reminiscent of Salter and the author includes a clever nod to him within the novel.
Dannii Elle
Aug 13, 2018 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
As much as I love the online book community, I find it can restrict the books I read and purchase. I too often find myself checking out reviews or disallowing myself to delve into books that are not on my tbr. Whilst on holidays in the book town of Hay-on-Wye I scrapped all of that and spent two glorious days buying and reading exactly just what appealed to me!

One such title was The Virgins, an adult, historical fiction, focusing on a group of adolescents, in the 1970s, and their pre-internet st
Review originally published at Learn This Phrase.

Set at Auburn, an American pre-college prepatory school in the late 1970s/early 1980s, The Virgins tells a familiar tale of first love and sexual awakening. The narrative, however, has an unusual structure: the story of the romance between students Aviva and Seung is told from the perspective of a third, largely uninvolved, character, Bruce. Bruce is privy only to occasional, out-of-context snippets of the couple's relationship, but around these s
Stacia (the 2010 club)
The all-too-brief moments of storytelling genius which stirred my curiosity were not enough to keep me from the realization that I did not like the main characters which the story revolved around.

Maybe I'm too young to appreciate this coming-of-age tale in the the 1970's. Oh wait; scratch that. I love the idea of mid-to-late century boarding school stories. In fact, I've been trying to seek out anything from this category which looks appealing. It's really too bad that when I find a rare book o
John Irving is among the many big names who have praised Pamela Erens’s latest, an emotionally complex and darkly gripping love story set among teenagers at an exclusive New England boarding school.

As the novel opens in 1979, sixteen-year-old Aviva Rossner has just made her way from Chicago to New Hampshire to begin her junior year at Auburn Academy. Her parents are getting a divorce, and her sense of confusion and dislocation prompts her to start changing her image. No longer just some mousy Je
Nancy Freund
Aug 14, 2013 rated it it was amazing
Wow. I actually uploaded a video review to YouTube about this one and that's the single most important word I used: wow. In that review I focused primarily on Erens' handling of a "participating omniscient narrator" which surely has a literary term I've forgotten, but she uses the character of Bruce Bennett-Jones beautifully, weaving him into the actual plot-line such that he fully owns his omniscience and his role in the story of the two main characters he is observing, Seung and Aviva. I'd say ...more
Apr 08, 2014 rated it did not like it
Auburn Academy, in 1979 - 80, an elite boarding school for spoilt rich kids, is the setting for this novel which concerns the fumblings and gropings of two teenagers obsessed with themselves and each other.

Aviva, a self-absorbed and insecure Jewish girl, seeks attention by wearing ostentatious gold jewellery and dressing differently from her peers; she believes if she is not noticed she will just fade away. Seung, the number two Korean son, raised to be honourable, obedient and studious is a "pr
Oct 13, 2014 rated it it was amazing
How can I begin to say how I LOVE THIS BOOK: Masterfully written, lush searing prose, a brilliant study in structure and point of view, this is not another boarding school tale but something else- far more urgent, complex, universal. The book is so taut it does not carry a single word of fat, making it impossible to put down, the tension propelling the story to the final stirring page- and leaving the reader with so much to think about long after. An essential, extraordinary novel.
Claudia Putnam
Mar 27, 2013 rated it it was amazing
Boarding-schools do work wonderfully as cozies, both in art and in real life. The setting and cast are limited, so whatever goes on is going to be intensified. I wrote in some tenth-grade essay that my prep school—the same one Erens’s Auburn Academy is based on—took the general ecstasies and woes of adolescence and magnified them almost beyond bearing. I also believed, and still believe, that because we were away from home, the prep school environment, in ways that may have been paradoxically st ...more
Sophfronia Scott
Aug 15, 2013 rated it really liked it
I review The Virgins in the new issue of Gently Read Literature (, here's a sample. And if you like it, please subscribe and check out the entire issue:

"Pamela Erens’s novel The Virgins also takes place at a boarding school, Auburn Academy, and she casts it with a number of characters with whom a reader might identify. I will admit, though, my experience with A Separate Peace was working on me as I read it. Even before we learn the name of Bruce Bennett-J
Jan 03, 2014 rated it liked it
I learned about this novel from one of the Best Books of 2013 lists, published in The Daily Beast or some other Huffington Post. I spotted it among some other books that I knew, and it caught my eye - a novel set in an elite boarding school at the end of the 70's, with a bizarre love triangle - two students pursue the same girl, but only one wins her affection - the other becomes the narrator of The Virgins, Pamela Erens's second novel.

Bruce Bennett-Jones, the said narrator, is decidedly an unpl
Stacey D.
Aug 13, 2020 rated it really liked it
I found this to be a beautifully written and deeply satisfying story. There were times that The Virgins reminded me of Prep and similar coming-of-age stories that, though reflective, don't give off too much of a sentimental vibe. The story is shared in an interesting way: through a third party, Bruce, who couldn't possibly have known the initimate goings on of main characters Aviva and Seung at Auburn Academy, a high school boarding school in New Hampshire. Even so, this unreliable narrator come ...more
Jun 06, 2014 rated it it was amazing
Several months after reading it, it still holds up as one of the books that most impressed me this year. The book has been written patiently, you can feel that, and there's something solid, rather muscular about its strength.
The choices are very interesting. I read a review in the NYT before reading it and I gathered that the narrator is a nasty creature, but he is so layered, that he is far from incarnating evil. His story made me feel for him.
I compared the ambiance to my own situation durin
A coming-of-age novel set in an East Coast college/boarding-school in the late 70s; teenagers getting to grips with adulthood and sexuality; a striking girl who is every male student's object of desire; a love story which can only lead to tragedy; an unreliable narrator who, years after the events described, tries to make sense of them but is so clearly driven by conflicting emotions (nostalgia, guilt, self-pity) that we can never be sure whether or not he is telling the truth...

So far, so ordin
Debbie Ann
Mar 14, 2014 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: highlyrecommend
This is not another boarding school book. No PREP. It is far more accomplished, far deeper than that.
You know when you read Pamela Erens, you are going to get energetic writing, flawless language… and more. This is a sophisticated look at sexuality, coming of age and boarding life. It is also an excellent reflection upon just what intimacy is, and what interferes with it. And how perception of others and ourselves impacts our choices in life changing ways.
I love how bold this writer is. I reall
Joachim Stoop
Apr 28, 2017 rated it liked it
3,5/5. The writing is ok to good. The book is small, yet the story sometimes seems to go everywhere and nowhere, although the plot was rather thrilling. Looking back, it gets better. Maybe in one month I'll give it 4 stars ...more
Aug 18, 2013 rated it it was amazing
The It Couple of a certain east coast prep school oozes with sex. And they’re so cool about it. Sure there are other couples, but Aviva and Seung are the ones to watch. Her: a new girl with a purple bra and a limitless credit card: Him, a swimmer with a fondness for chemistry both in the classroom and when he’s imagining THC as shaped like a pull toy.

One guy is so taken with Aviva that all he can do is watch. And imagine. And jerk the turkey. Bruce Bennett-Jones plays narrator/voyeur/fan fictio
Dec 30, 2013 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
This novel is set during the academic year of 1979-80, in an elite, East Coast boarding school – Auburn Academy. Our narrator is Bruce Bennett-Jones; something of a voyeur, he enjoys drama from the viewpoint of a director, rather than being on the stage. It is from this slightly distant perspective that we witness events, beginning with the arrival of Aviva Rossner, whom Bruce is instantly attracted to. Both come from wealthy families, but neither is as perfect as they first seem. Bruce’s father ...more
Mar 07, 2018 rated it liked it
Recommended to Ylenia by: Youtube
3.5 stars

This was my second experience with Pamela Erens and it went exactly as Eleven Hours did: a good book at first, that leave you unsatisfied when you reach the end.

The more I read of The Virgins, the more I realized how many things Erens tried to deal with; we obviously had a love story. Aviva and Seung had problems with their own families, separately and together. Drugs, friends, childhood, school. But sex and relationships seemed to me the main topic this book focused on.

The reason why
Nicole Wolverton
Jun 04, 2013 rated it really liked it
There are many things to like about The Virgins. First and foremost, though, is that this is a story that is, most likely, a complete fabrication. I mean that in more than a Well, gee, Nicole, it's fiction kind of a way. The narrator--Bruce Bennett-Jones--is the narrator, and he's sort of a by-stander in the story of of Aviva Rossner and Seung Jung, supposedly the most sexually obvious couple at an elite boarding school for high schoolers. It should also be noted that Bennett-Jones is a complete ...more
Feb 08, 2014 rated it it was ok
Ugh. I know high school and early college years are full of drama for a lot of people, but wow. This book is super dramatic, and I find pretty much everyone in it despicable or at least lacking in many truly redeeming qualities. I don't have to like a book's characters to like the book, but I do want to believe the characters, to believe that they are real and have dimension. Everyone here is a grotesque, and I'm just not impressed. I get why the author makes some of her choices, particularly wi ...more
Sian Lile-Pastore
Apr 23, 2014 rated it really liked it
an enjoyable, easy read told from the point of view of a slightly odd unreliable narrator. who doesn't love a coming of age novel set in a boarding school where everyone is obsessed with sex and relationships? no one that's who. plus it's 1979? let's go!

as lots of people have said on here, it is reminiscent of The Virgin Suicides and like 'suicides' we never really get to know any of the characters as they are observed and obsessed about from afar, and it's all about the surface and what you thi
Celeste Ng
The plot itself is simple--it's more a story of what didn't happen than what did, almost a novel version of a Stuart Dybek short story I love, "We Didn't." But the telling of it is what makes this work: the story is told--reconstructed and re-imagined, actually--by a classmate of the lovers, giving Ehrens essentially a first-person unreliable omniscient narrator. So interesting from a writing perspective! And I applaud Ehrens for creating an Asian character who is complex and isn't stereotypical ...more
Jul 29, 2013 rated it it was amazing
Such a wonderful read! I've been eagerly awaiting the next book by Pamela Erens and this one did not disappoint! So worth the wait. I stayed up late to finish it because I could not put it down. The narrative voice is interesting and critically important to the telling of the story...and becomes ever more so as the book wends toward its fascinating and deeply satisfying finish. What a read! I highly recommend it. ...more
Aug 07, 2013 rated it really liked it
4 1/2 stars. When I think of Erens writing, I envision her with a miniature wand in hand, pen-size. Her sentences are flawless, her observations of human behavior dead on. I applaud her too for creating a Korean character who is not just a stick figure. A brutally honest look at young love, racism, cultural pressure, and societal hypocrisy. A bonus also to read a story set in the time I grew up, so I enjoyed all the details that set it in that time period. I look forward to Erens' next book. ...more
Aug 10, 2013 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: novels
The Virgins: A Novel by Pamela Erens

I loved Pamela Erens's first novel, The Understory. Like that book, her new novel is beautifully written. Every sentence is elegant and perfect, and they all flow together to create a lush whole.

See my full review at Perpetual Folly: 2013 Reading: The Virgins by Pamela Erens
Aug 08, 2013 rated it it was amazing
I'm actually at a loss for words. This is just...brilliant work. Now I can read that John Irving review. ...more
Ash Rocketship
May 14, 2020 rated it did not like it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: dnf, 2020
I don't feel great giving up on something on page 84, but every time I open the Kindle app on my phone to give this a shot, I'm filled with existential dread and that was even before every day life felt that way too. The writing is fine, but the entire thing is just annoyingly pretentious and more objectionably, boring as hell. I've been pretty good about valuing my time too much to keep reading things I'm just not into and now more than ever I'm trying to be willing to aggressively say goodbye, ...more
Larry H
Aug 26, 2013 rated it really liked it
Do you remember what it was like when you thought you could tell everything about a person simply by looking at them? (Maybe you still think this.) More specifically, do you remember in high school thinking that the so-called "popular" crowd must have had it made, that the couples you saw together all the time might be together forever, that the "smart kids" had it easier than anyone else?

Pamela Erens' new novel The Virgins seeks to capture that time, those feelings. It's 1979 at Auburn Academy,
Maya Lang
Oct 17, 2013 rated it it was amazing
A flawless, lush, mesmerizing novel. There is so much that Erens captures so beautifully: boarding school life, adolescence, sexuality, obsession. And I should say that I'm normally skeptical of boarding school novels, having actually went to one. This one nails it. There's a certain ineffable quality to being a boarder, sadder and less glamorous than people think, that has to do with the strangeness of going through adolescence without adults. I honestly didn't think a novel would ever be able ...more
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Pamela Erens’s third novel, Eleven Hours, was published by Tin House Books (US) and Atlantic Books (UK) in 2016 and by Keter (Israel) in 2017.

Eleven Hours was named a Best Book of 2016 by NPR, The New Yorker, Kirkus, Literary Hub, Entropy, and the Irish Independent. It received starred reviews from Kirkus, Publishers Weekly, and Library Journal, and was lauded by publications ranging from The New

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