Hard Love by Ellen Wittlinger

Just like the cover, Ellen Wittlinger's Hard Love (1999) is a patchwork. In addition to the usual story, there are poems, letters, and zine entries, giving a youthful, scattered feel to the book.

Told in the first person, this is the story of John, a lonely teenager dealing with the after-effects of his parents' six-year-old divorce. His two friends are Brian, someone John admits to acting like he sees grudgingly, and who also now has a girlfriend to fill his free time, and Marisol, a lesbian John actually loves and who thinks his name is Gio. Even with his friends, he hides himself.

Despite dealing with the serious issues of identity, teenage sexuality, and feeling adrift and spiritually homeless, Wittlinger manages to end the book on a hopeful, though realistic, note.

Here are a couple of sections from the "therapy" letters John writes to his parents at Marisol's urging. She expects him not to share the letters with his parents, but he does, for which I, as a "survivor" of my own parents' divorce, give him credit.

To Mom, p.138:

I've become warped and crooked in these years since you and Dad divorced, and even though I know you'd put most of the blame on Dad, who does indeed deserve his share, it's you who screwed me up on a daily basis for the last six years. If I did let you read this, you'd put it down right about now. You'd say I'm so unfair. What terrible thing did you ever do to me? You barely escaped with your sanity as it was!

But the problem isn't what you Did do, it's what you Didn't. At first, when Dad left, I was scared, but at least I still had you--(I thought)--you hadn't run away from me. It didn't take long to realize how wrong I was. You were gone too. Sealed up inside yourself where I couldn't get in, never mind that we still lived in the same house.

To Dad, p.140:

Even though I blame you more than Mom for the miseries of my growing up, I don't hate you. Maybe that's because hate is such a strong emotion, and you don't really call up any feeling in me at all. Who are you? A guy who left his wife and child because they didn't fit the selfish lifestyle he preferred. A guy who eats dinner wiht his kid every Friday night, but has nothing to say to him.

There's also a companion book, Love & Lies: Marisol's Story, released in 2008. I plan to read that book, as well, at some point because Marisol seems as complex and interesting as John.

You can learn more, including about the awards the book received, at the author's site here.

My overall personal rating of Hard Love is a B.


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