Hard Love by Ellen Wittlinger
Simon and Schuster, 2001
Plot Summary: John is a 17 year old loner and the author of a zine called Bananafish. He has a lot of issues surrounding his parents divorce. On a trip to Tower Records in Boston, John meets Marisol, the author of another zine. She is an adoptee who recently came out and is dealing with personal issues like sexuality and abandonment since she was adopted. She wants to escape storybook life her parents have set up for her. She is focused on finding out who she is outside of her parents context. After meeting her, John realizes that he doesn't hate people, realizes his feelings on family and relationships. John complicates things by falling in love with Marisol which is bad news because what they have in common is not trusting people in general. The two zine writers will have to figure out how to deal with their potential romance and friendship.
Critical Analysis: The characters in Hard Love are intelligent, relatable, and deep. John is self deprecating without being self pitying and perceptive. This seems to be a rarity in young adult books, far too many seem to portray teens who are self-centered and impulsive.
The layout is also cool, as the book is set up like a zine. This allows there to be a bit of the book within a book context. Wittlinger goes into some of the tips or information about zine making and how the process works and as a creative outlet. I thought this especially made it a unique read.
Hard Love draws on some popular culture, it includes folk singer/songwriter Ani DiFranco's poetry. This and the zine element make it feel like a complete story, all facets are considered. In nearly every element, from uniqueness to characterization to readability, Wittlinger wrote a great book.
Reader's Annotation: John's love for fellow zine writer Mariposa seems doomed because she's gay. How will she and he balance their potential friendship or relationship?
Author Information: Wittlinger worked as a children's librarian, which gave her unique insight into writing for teens. She also lived in Cape Cod, the setting for many of her books.
Genre: realistic fiction, young adult
Curriculum Ties: Wittlinger raises a lot of curiosity in the reader about writing and creative expression and writing as a creative outlet. It provides an interesting window into that subculture. There is a lot of potential for character exploration and mapping character development by letting students write a zine for an assignment.
Reading Level/Interest Age: 15 and up
Challenge Issues: sexuality
Challenge Defense Ideas: Become familiar with the book, keeping the challenge issues in mind. Refer to the library's collection development policy here. If possible, find other opinions from reviews, recommendations, or others who have read the book.
Why I included this title: Hard Love is a great book, another one in which the format and content is nontraditional. It is something of a departure from what you'd typically find in realistic YA fiction. Wittlinger features great characterization and a good introduction into creative writing and zine writing. It's also a Printz award winner, so its on a must-own basis in my opinion.