Friday, April 11, 2014

On Unhealthy Relationships in YA Books

So this week, BLEED LIKE ME advanced reader copies started getting distributed at TLA. And whenever I think of this messed-up broken love story of mine, I am dropped immediately back into my high school years and the plethora of bad dating choices I made as a teenager.

Because here's the truth: I dated badly in high school. If I really think hard about it, I would say that my high school years were mostly a series of bad choices and hook-ups with people who didn't want me nearly as much as I wanted them. The ones who did want me? Yeah, I wasn't really interested.

And for me, this is the reality of dating in high school. Yes, I know people who were high school sweethearts. Yes, I know people who had generally healthy relationships in high school. But more, I know people who dated assholes (both girls and guys). And while my teen years might have been slightly more tumultuous than the average high schooler, my guess is that dating assholes is not unique to my friends.

Which is why I love the YA books out in the world that turn the notion of great young love on its head and assert that yes, it really can go badly.You really can be in love with someone and it turns out they suck.

It's a tricky thing as a writer to delve into the world of unhealthy relationships because you don't want to be endorsing such relationships, but at the risk of sounding redundant, writing about assholes does not mean that writers are looking for people to be assholes. To be clear, these books are not romances, we're not trying to redeem heroes or heroines. We're exploring toxic relationships and bad choices.

Here are a few of my favorite books on unhealthy relationships:

BUT I LOVE HIM: Sometimes at night, I wake up and stare at the heart for hours. I think of how I collected each piece from the beach, how I glued it all together into one big sculpture. I wonder if Connor realizes what it means, that he'll always have a piece of me no matter what happens. Each piece of glass is another piece of myself that I gave to him.

It's too bad I didn't keep any pieces for myself.

At the beginning of senior year, Ann was a smiling, straight-A student and track star with friends and a future. Then she met a haunted young man named Connor. Only she can heal his emotional scars; only he could make her feel so loved - and needed. Ann can't recall the pivotal moment it all changed, when she surrendered everything to be with him, but by graduation, her life has become a dangerous high wire act. Just one mistake could trigger Connor's rage, a senseless storm of cruel words and violence damaging everything - and everyone - in its path.

This evocative slideshow of flashbacks reveals a heartbreaking story of love gone terribly wrong.

CRIMINAL: Nikki’s life is far from perfect, but at least she has Dee. Her friends tell her that Dee is no good, but Nikki can’t imagine herself without him. He’s hot, he’s dangerous, he has her initials tattooed over his heart, and she loves him more than anything. There’s nothing Nikki wouldn’t do for Dee. Absolutely nothing.

So when Dee pulls Nikki into a crime—a crime that ends in murder—Nikki tells herself that it’s all for true love. Nothing can break them apart. Not the police. Not the arrest that lands Nikki in jail. Not even the investigators who want her to testify against him.

But what if Dee had motives that Nikki knew nothing about? Nikki’s love for Dee is supposed to be unconditional…but even true love has a limit. And Nikki just might have reached hers.

POINTE: Theo is better now.

She's eating again, dating guys who are almost appropriate, and well on her way to becoming an elite ballet dancer. But when her oldest friend, Donovan, returns home after spending four long years with his kidnapper, Theo starts reliving memories about his abduction—and his abductor.

Donovan isn't talking about what happened, and even though Theo knows she didn't do anything wrong, telling the truth would put everything she's been living for at risk. But keeping quiet might be worse.

DREAMLAND: Ever since she started going out with Rogerson Biscoe, Caitlin seems to have fallen into a semiconscious dreamland where nothing is quite real. Rogerson is different from anyone Caitlin has ever known. He's magnetic. He's compelling. He's dangerous. Being with him makes Caitlin forget about everything else--her missing sister, her withdrawn mother, her lackluster life. But what happens when being with Rogerson becomes a larger problem than being without him?

USES FOR BOYS: Anna remembers a time before boys, when she was little and everything made sense. When she and her mom were a family, just the two of them against the world. But now her mom is gone most of the time, chasing the next marriage, bringing home the next stepfather. Anna is left on her own—until she discovers that she can make boys her family. From Desmond to Joey, Todd to Sam, Anna learns that if you give boys what they want, you can get what you need. But the price is high—the other kids make fun of her; the girls call her a slut. Anna's new friend, Toy, seems to have found a way around the loneliness, but Toy has her own secrets that even Anna can't know.

Then comes Sam. When Anna actually meets a boy who is more than just useful, whose family eats dinner together, laughs, and tells stories, the truth about love becomes clear. And she finally learns how it feels to have something to lose—and something to offer. Real, shocking, uplifting, and stunningly lyrical,  Uses for Boys  is a story of breaking down and growing up.


Brittany said...

Great list. So many truly important books on this list. I'd like to also recommend Bitter End by Jennifer Brown which was devastatingly well written on the topic. I think these books are especially important for young people because it can help set the tone for the rest of their lives. It can be tricky recognizing that you're in a toxic relationship, and I think these books can help someone recognize a bad relationship sooner.

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