Lately there's been some strong opinions voiced in the YA book blogosphere about romance in young adult literature. Both sides are equally strong and I've even voiced my opinion on my writing blog. So the timing is excellent for author, Josie Bloss, to stop by and talk about her book, Albatross, which showcases such a bad romance in a more realistic light than the more romanticized books are wont to do. So without further ado, here's Josie! Thanks so much for stopping by, Josie! (I also made a mistake in my contest reminder last night. My contest for Albatross ends tonight at midnight, EST!)
I wrote Albatross in part because I was tired of reading books in which a dude exhibited manipulative and emotionally abusive behavior that for some reason was considered romantic. Since I had personally fought my way out of a bad relationship, I was very sensitive to this romanticizing of controlling behavior. It made me angry, and deeply concerned with the messages these books were giving about what was okay in relationships. Because if a guy really loves you you he'll...disable your car? Tell you who you're allowed to hang out with? Call you weak and clumsy and insist that he needs to keep tabs on you 24/7 to make sure you don't hurt yourself? Stalk you?
Let me tell you all, as someone who has been through something similar in the real world, it's NOT romantic or hot. It doesn't make you feel loved and special. It's scary and painful and, if/when you escape (which for many people is a herculean effort), it can take years to get your head screwed back on straight and to convince yourself you did the right thing.
Albatross is also a story about obsession, and the unhealthy and counter-intuitive things that people will do when they are obsessed with a controlling person. My main character, Tess, is lonely after moving to a new town, and still reeling from escaping her hostile father. She becomes entranced by Micah, an alluring and brilliant boy who seems to understand her as no one else ever has. And though Micah eventually shows his true colors - plays her hot and cold, belittles her, tells her he's in love with someone else, keeps her constantly guessing - Tess feels helpless under his spell and is unable let him go.
I knew I would eventually hear frustrated comments about the story. "I don't understand why Tess didn't just stand up for herself! Why didn't she kick Micah to the curb after ten pages? He's obviously a terrible person!" I get that disgust, I really do. It sucks to watch someone make bad choices. In fact, it's downright unpleasant. Albatross was a hard book to write for that reason. So many times I wanted to reach into the story and give Tess a good shake and yell at her to give up on this jackass, that she deserved so much better
But even if I could do that, she wouldn't have believed me right away. And I had to stick with what I knew was true because I had lived it. The truth is that some people don't have that innate confidence in their own self-worth which allows them to instantly dismiss manipulative and angry guys like Micah. Some people can't stand up for themselves right away when they're being treated badly by someone they care about. Some people are even convinced they deserve the bad treatment, because that is what they're used to and they don't know how to demand anything else. (Or, more horribly, they think that's what love is.) Some people need time and help to realize they deserve better.
My hope is that readers can find a way to look at someone with a screwed up definition of love, someone who is hurting, someone like Tess, with empathy.
If you're lucky enough not to have been in a bad relationship, if you roll your eyes and can't understand why someone would realistically act the way that Tess does, well...when you see a friend going through it (and if you haven't already, you probably will someday), I hope that you can react with compassion. That you don't get angry and judgmental at her weakness, but that you try and understand why she is allowing herself to stay in a bad situation.
In Albatross, Tess does eventually find her strength and inner-badass and realize she deserves better than Micah, but it takes time and a lot of patient, quiet support from her mom and her friends. Maybe you can be that support to someone you know who is going through the same thing. And we can all work toward a healthier definition of romance, one love story at a time.
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