I’ve posted about how Kat Rosenfield made her way onto my Writer Crush list. Well another YA author did so as well, Nova Ren Suma. I can’t say I absolutely loved Imaginary Girls or that I related to any of the characters on a deep level the way that I did with Amelia Anne Is Dead And Gone. The story was interesting, fascinating, captivating, but it didn’t wiggle it’s way to the favorites list. Nova Ren Suma’s writing style, however, did. I read and re-read sentences and then read them to friends who share my love of literature. Because I was that envious of her style, her ability to string a sentence together in a way that felt magical. So maybe that particular story didn’t grab me as well as I’d have liked… but her writing enchanted me, made me want to try harder with my own writing. And that’s something I cherish. So because of that, Imaginary Girls is on the *special shelf* and that’s where it will remain.
All that said, Nova Ren Suma has another book coming out this week, tomorrow in fact, by the name of 17 & Gone. And while I’m yet again unsure if the story will capture my heart, I want to read it just to feast my eyes on her words. She has a current blog feature about what haunted people at 17, and it made me think. I was severely haunted at 17, I have tons I could say. And I suppose I should.
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At 17, what haunted me, consumed my every waking hour… was my obsessiveness, my self-destructive love for my abusive girlfriend, my depression, and most of all… distance.
I wrote intensely angry and depressing poetry, I hurt myself physically and then rebelled against anyone who got upset at me for doing so; I was a wreck and I allowed myself to stay that way. And I have no clue how I managed to have friends. The moment I started to be happy or content where I was… I lashed out. My friends were constantly made aware that no matter how much I loved them, or loved being around them, they were never enough; because thousands of miles away was a girl who treated me like crap and I worshiped her for it.
And aside from that, I was obsessed with the idea of running away and living as a boy. I thought if I could just get back, everything would be perfect. And so I concocted a plan… if I ran away, the police would be looking for a girl, so I would become a boy. I started practicing, which wasn’t that hard because I already had moments where I felt like a boy. I’d bind my chest with an Ace bandage and practice walking through my room with a boy swag. I’d practice sitting like a boy when no one was looking. And then… I’d start to forget. I’d get lost in a book or a movie or a conversation and forget I was supposed to be running, forget I was supposed to be thinking about a girl far far away, forget I was supposed to be in love. Until my phone rang and I remembered, she was everything to me and I was depressed and lonely because she was so far away.
Being depressed was a full time job. I wasn’t actually depressed simply because she was no where near me, but I made myself believe that was the source. Whenever I started to feel okay, that depression yanked me back down, and I sunk everything in her. I told myself if I could see her… if I could just see her everything would be better, I’d miraculously be better, her love would fix it all. Only none of that was love and if her love could have fixed it, it would have done so at 3,000 miles just as well as it would have from 3,000 centimeters. Love doesn’t really care about distance. But at 17, distance was the enemy. She wouldn’t have cheated, wouldn’t have done drugs, wouldn’t have berated me, wouldn’t have treated me like I was nothing without her and nothing with her and yet like she graciously chose to keep me around anyway… She’d have been perfect for me, if only it weren’t for that distance.
And through all of that, I did so much to keep busy. I had a weekend job at a major amusement park. I did theatre and dance and played piano. And all of these things required after school practice and memorization and dedication. In my spare time I wrote poetry. I played video games none of my friends were interested in. I loved all of the things I did to stay as busy as possible, well, except maybe that custodial job. It was how I coped, how I kept moving, how I allowed myself to be tricked into believing that the black cloud above my head would disappear one day… if that distance was gone and that love was real. Always in the back of my my mind was this ever looming pain, threatening to consume me if I stopped for a second. And when I did stop, everything hurt so bad that I had to try to cut it out of me. Sometimes I’d hurt myself even when I felt fine, because that didn’t feel real anymore, happiness felt false and confusing.
Then… she would call me, mad that I was a mess, pissed off that I missed her or didn’t miss her the way she wanted or wasn’t try hard enough to come home, to be a perfect girlfriend, to be a better version of me… her version of me. She’d call me stupid for crying, she’d go days without calling me at all because listening to me was too difficult, or because she wanted to teach me a lesson, or sometimes for no reason at all. She’d call me a bitch, call me crazy, tell me I wasn’t worth it. And then… when life started to suck at the marrow in her bones and she wanted someone to kiss it better, she’d find me and cry and I’d soothe it all away. Every single time. Like a fool.
When I read back on my poetry from 17 it’s angst ridden as you might expect, but there is anger in there, bitterness, intelligence. The style is crap mostly. I was either too blunt or too cryptic. However, every time I read one of those poems, I am struck by how aware I was that I was in pain, that my relationship was abusive and nothing but a dead end. And yet… and yet I stayed. Because it wasn’t about love anymore, no matter what I claimed. It was an obsession. I would make it work, I would make her love me like she should, I would smooth the rough edges, I would make the abuse stop, I would, I would, I would… by going home to her. And that plagued me constantly.
The sad part is, there were times I was keenly aware that I was in pain and it was due to her meanness, her harshness, her abuse. But I would tramp those feelings down, I would bury them between lies and tears and scars and angry drunk scrawlings in diary pages. I suspected that no one understood that she was my whole world and my love was utterly wrapped up in her and the distance, that hideous distance, burned my heart until it was a pile of ash in my chest. And sometimes I suspected I put her on this pedestal so high that no one could ever reach it, let alone her, and that I kept her there just to torture myself. Every time I felt like moving on, there she was, texting, calling, messaging. Sometimes it was to tell me she missed me. Sometimes it was to call me names and leave me a puddle of tears and blood on the floor. She knew the power she held over me, the power I gave her, and she used it whenever she felt lonely. And I let her. And that plagued me too. Distance and obsession and abuse… all under the guise of love.
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I feel like this story needs a moral. But there isn’t one. I went home, not as a boy like I had hoped, but as myself. She wouldn’t have liked my boy self anyway; he was too assertive, too abrasive, too dominant. And once I was back, things only got worse rather than better. The emotional abuse got worse, and eventually turned into other kinds of abuse. And then, for a while, I grew to be haunted by 17 itself, by 18, by 19, by 20, by all the choices I made, or didn’t make; by all the scars, both visible and not. Who I was, what I endured in the name of an obsessive and abusive love, who I let myself become for other people, that became what haunted me after 17. But when I was 17, before I was willing to accept what love really was, I was haunted by distance and by a girl I wanted to love for all the wrong reasons.
I’m not haunted anymore. Those choices made me who I am today. And I’m not going to pretend any of that was easy. Some days I’m not sure any of that was worth it. But I survived, I learned, I grew, and I pressed forward. It’s not much, but it’s something. Perhaps it’s everything… surviving. I am happy now, I am with someone who doesn’t exploit my faults, doesn’t hurt me just to keep me under their control, and who knows that even if they wanted to… I never gave them the power to do so. Because I may have given them my heart, but I didn’t give them permission to break it over and over and over. I’m not 17 anymore. I don’t allow anything to haunt me these days.
I mentioned in my previous post that I think more authors should really try to perfect their craft. This is not to say I’m a super fancy writer, obviously I’m not or I’d be published rather than writing a blog post that few will actually read. But I figure, since I picked at mainstream lit, I should explain my thinking. And it should be noted, I’m referring to YA here. Adult novels, intrinsically not focusing on coming-of-age tales, do not fall into the same problems, though they do have their own. And, obviously, all of this is my personal opinion. I am no expert, and as my wonderful friend Kim recently said to me, art has a bias and no one is ever stating fact.
I do read the sort of books I was poking in my previous post. People say “OMG this book was amaaaaaaazing you have to read it do it you must you know you want to it was absolutely wonderful please for me to make me happy and feel like I shared something worth sharing read it omg now.” (Painful run on sentence. I’m so sorry you had to read that.)
Also, sometimes the synopsis sounds like it could be a brilliant book. A book just waiting to make the favorites list. And then they don’t. And then I give them 2 stars and people tell me I’m too picky, too critical, too snobby, too… whatever they think is bad to make me feel stupid for disliking something I didn’t think was up to par. And the funny thing is… no one asks the important questions.
A lot of these books had a good idea, they just fell through in execution. A lot of these books also focus heavily on the romantic aspect and you don’t need TRUE LOVE to sell a book to me. I actually get along just fine without a heavy romantic element. Long Lankin by Lindsey Barraclough did a wonderful job of capturing my attention and holding it without romance. On the other hand, you can include romance without smothering me with it, making it the focal point to an unhealthy degree, and/or failing to keep it real within the context of the story. Divergent by Veronica Roth is by far the best I’ve seen that keeps the romance in perspective, builds up to it in a logical manner, and never overwhelms me with need, which is not what love or romance is all about.
There are books I wanted to like, but the writing was never up to the challenge the story presented. Flat characters are flat. Obvious, I know. But I don’t want to read two dimensional characters. I want them to jump out of the page and feel real to me. If an author can’t do that, I can’t be their target audience. Complex plot lines are wonderful. Convoluted ones are not. If you tried to do so much in your story that I need a manual to navigate through your knotted up sub-plots and around your gaping holes, I can’t be your target audience.
I am critical. If your story is set in a mental hospital and you mention a patient hearing clinking silverware, I will put the story down. Because the only way that’s real is if the patient is hallucinating. And if she is, you might want to tell me before she hears the impossible and I tune out. If your werewolves, with their increased sense of smell, can’t sniff out a person is actually another werewolf, I will check out of your story. Because that is illogical. If your Hero deadpan tells your Heroine that he wants to kill her, stalks her, blatantly tries to restrict her freedom as a person, and/or treats her as lesser because of who she is but tries to say he loves her anyway… at any point in the story and she does not get scared, fear for her life, call the police, run away, or at least acknowledge that this is not correct, I will probably chuck the book across the room because abuse is not sexy and I will not tolerate the romanticizing of it. I am happily critical about inconsistencies, fallacies, plot holes, and downright romanticizing things that have no right to be.
And let’s talk a moment about abuse and literature, shall we? If you’ve got a BDSM book (which would likely not be YA, but humor me anyway), and a fantasy the couple is acting out is a serial killer who wants to kill the girl but wants to have sex with her more, so they spare her, for now… dun dun dun! That’s fine. Because the characters acknowledge it’s fantasy and are consenting, and theoretically sane. But a love interest is not sexy because they could hurt you, yet choose not to. They’re sexy because they doesn’t want to hurt you. If your love interest wants to kill you, if they stalk you, if they restrict your freedom as a person, if they treat you like they are superior to you… they are abusive. And that’s not cute or sexy. That’s not loving possessiveness, that’s not loving anything. Abuse is abuse. And it’s not something to romanticize, because it truly could hurt you.
I have a high standard for what I consider good writing. And I think plenty of authors have the potential to reach that level. But I honestly do think a lot of them settle for mediocracy. My saying that is actually a compliment. I’m saying they could do better and they choose not to, as opposed to saying they are incapable of doing better. The goal is not quantity, but quality. I understand writers want to make a living off of their words, but perhaps it’s the love of words that should take the foreground.