#9. Hard Love


I’ve thoroughly enjoyed this book and it has been a pleasant sort of surprise. I walked into the library – the youth section – and decided to look only at the books with a red circle on the spine (it seemed that these books had either won or been shortlisted for some major award). Anyway, I picked up this book without knowing a single thing about its author – none of her literary merits or whatever (not something I do often) – I just liked the title of the book: Hard Love. It wasn’t sappy; it was edgy, non-embarrassing. Hard love, I could deal with that.

From the first page, I was sucked in. The narrator’s voice was angst-y without being completely whiny, and he was funny too (a couple of times I closed the book so that I could throw my head back and laugh, and then turn around and press my dear housemate into laughing along with me). I wouldn’t call the author’s sentences beautiful or even particularly memorable, but somehow, they struck a chord somewhere deep inside and I couldn’t stop reading – reading with the sort of absorption where every interruption is painful, even if you love the interrupter to death (it reminded me of a short story by Italo Calvino where this reader on a beach meets an attractive woman near the water, and sleeps with her just to quiet her interruptions; in his mind he slips back into the fictional world of his tome – finally, I found some sympathy for that reader).

What’s the story that I’m gushing about then?

A sixteen-year old boy who writes a zine (the paper version of a blog) meets a seventeen-year old girl who also writes a zine. They hit it off and open up to each other through long, deep conversations and letters/ poems. The girl is lesbian. The boy falls for her – hard. In the background of this complex relationship are complicated relationships with both the boy’s and girl’s sets of parents.

It was a new story line for me. Girls fall for their gay best friends all the time. Straight guys and girls also fall for their best friends of the opposite sex. But I had never imagined what it would be like for a straight guy to fall for a lesbian (I’m also always impressed when a female author manages to write convincingly in a male voice). That the author did not trivialize her characters’ issues was just another huge plus – it read like a book for adults and not merely a book for young adults or teens – almost as big a plus as the idea that almost the entire premise of the book could be summed up in a song by a guy named Bob Franke, and a beautiful song it was, too. Here are some choice excerpts from the song:

Song Title – Hard Love

It was hard love, every step of the way,
Hard to be close to you, so hard to turn away,
And when all the stars and sentimental songs dissolved today,
There was nothing left to sing about but hard love.

So I loved you for your courage and your gentle
sense of shame,
And I loved you for your laughter and your language
and your name,
And I knew it was impossible, but I loved you just the same,
Though the only love I gave to you was hard love.

So I’ll tell you that I love you even though I’m far away,
And I’ll tell you how you change me as I live from day to day,
How you help me to accept myself and I won’t forget to say,
Love is never wasted, even when it’s hard love.

I’d recommend this book to anyone who’s ever had a hard or unrequited love. It will resonate. I’m definitely going to look up more of Ellen Wittlinger’s books.

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  1. August 16, 2012 at 10:24 am

    Thanks for the lovely words about Hard Love. Just wanted you to know there is a companion book to it called Love & Lies: Marisol’s Story. Enjoy!

  2. August 16, 2012 at 11:48 am

    I’m so honored that you took the time to read my review and respond! I’ll be going by the library again today; I’ll be sure to pick up Love & Lies. Thanks for the recommendation and thank you so much for writing Hard Love. I haven’t had a book affect me like that in such a long while.

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