Thursday, October 11, 2007
Hard Love by Ellen Wittlinger
I have to admit, despite its being a Printz Honor book with a very interesting premise, I was afraid that this book was going to disappoint. For one, it starts out with a very similar set-up as another of Wittlinger's books that I had read recently, Razzle. Slightly boring "normal" guy falls in love with off-beat unusual girl, hurts her, and hates himself. I couldn't have been more wrong.
Wittlinger brings her two struggling zine-writing teens to life. John is a normal teenage guy. His emotions never come to the surface and when they seem to in his writing, he claims it wasn't his intention to seem emotional. Dealing with his parents' divorce and his father's desertion of him (on an emotional level) and his mother's desertion of him (on a physical level) have left him emotionally stunted and so indifferent about love that he can't rightly identify himself as straight or gay. The complete other side of the coin is Marisol, who identifies herself as a lesbian and seems completely comfortable in her own skin even before she graduates from high school. She's a straight shooter who abhors lying, even to one's own self. John, in an effort to escape his average every day reality, can't seem to stop lying.
When Wittlinger brings these two characters together, fireworks go off. Soon John is sure that he is capable of love but has found an unfortunate target for all of the love and emotion he has kept inside since his parents' divorce. On the other hand, Marisol, while never doubting her sexuality, allows her wall of somewhat phony self-confidence to be penetrated by the bumbling John. The two become each other's best friend and worst enemy capable of hurting each other in a way they never thought possible. Wittlinger's development of these two characters is flawless.
Readers get a believable view into the psyche of an "average" teenage boy and all the hurt that lies therein. A few of the final scenes of the book moved me nearly to tears. As a teen book, Hard Love accomplishes what few that I've read recently do. It captures real issues without condescension and without slamming readers over the head with so much shocking bad language and behavior that it seems totally unsuitable to younger readers. I'm not faint of heart, and I was always allowed to read whatever I wanted once I hit my teenage years, but even I have to admit that I have been a tad blown away by what passes for "young adult" fiction now. This book breaks the mold. Highly recommended!