Thursday, April 1, 2010

Author Bites - Josie Bloss on Bad Romance

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.


Julia said...

Great advice, Josie! I've been there myself, and when I was reading Albatross I had that same "want to grab her and shake her and tell her to stop" reaction. But, I knew that she couldn't - that she'd have to get to that realization on her own. Thanks for writing a book that needed writing! And a super-good read, too!

Amy said...

This is SUCH a great post, Josie. I was seriously excited about Albatross as soon as I read a post from Kate about it. I fully agree that too often in YA lit (and elsewhere) emotionally abusive behaviour gets labeled as desirous. Which is... horrifying.

I noticed on GoodReads there were some reviews wanting Tess to just stick up for herself, and I guess I just kind of thought those people were lucky. Hopefully they never WILL get it. But, yeah, better yet--they understand despite not having the experience themselves so they can show more empathy toward anyone else in their life who has.

MissA said...

I admit, when I read books like this (not that I've read Albatross), where I don't understand the actions of the main character (i.e. why won't she stand up for herself?!) I get frustrated. But you make a valid point, one that needs to be repeated over and over again. It's ok to feel frustrated, but more importantly we need to feel empathy and love because you never know if you will be in a situation like this or know someone who is. It's always easier to judge someone when you don't know what it's fully like.

Thank you for writing a story that realistically portrays a bad romance, that shows that it's not ok, it's not sweet. It's scary and creepy and needs to stop.

I'm so sorry you had to go through an experience like this.

Andria said...

Thanks so much for this post! After reading your comments, I'm really looking forward to reading and reviewing your book for my blog. I've been very frustrated with the way so many of the YA books use bullying men as their "hero". I don't get it. I understand that females want a strong man, but strong and controlling are not the same thing.

I'm excited to read your book! Thanks for taking on a tough subject to help others!


Maria D'Isidoro said...

I hadn't heard about your book before, but it's being added to my "to read" pile immediately.

Last year, one of my best friends found herself in an abusive relationship. She lost a lot of friendships because people couldn't understand why she stayed with him when it was obvious he was piece of shit. They didn't realize that by doing that, they were making her even more dependent on him and less able to walk away. There were increasingly fewer good things waiting for her outside the relationship when they did that.

I've found myself turning away from a lot of YA books for precisely that reason; the 'romance' is glorified abuse. Having come from an emotionally abusive household, I simply can't read about romances like that, no matter how good the rest of the story is. I can't wait to read Albatross.

April (BooksandWine) said...

Moar healthy YA relationships plz!

That stated, this was awesome. I seriously cannot wait to get my hands on a copy of Albatross, it sounds right up my alley, especially because bad relationships do frustrate me.

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