Hard Love by Ellen Wittlinger 1999
Simon & Schuster
IQ "That's what I love about writing. Once you get the words down on paper, in print, they start to make sense. It's like you don't know what you think until it dribbles from your brain down your arm and into your hand and out through your fingers and shows up on the computer screen, and you read it and realize: That's really true; I believe that." John pg. 7
John's parents are divorced and since the divorce, John has been devoid of emotion. He's also neutral in his sexuality, not sure if he's gay or straight. His mother won't come into any kind of contact with him and his father would rather be anywhere else than sit down to a weekly dinner with his son. To make matters worse, John's mom is getting married and her fiance (Al) wants John and his mother to move in with him and his (Al's) mother. John has only one friend, Brian, whom he holds at a distance, so he expresses his true thoughts in homemade zines. In his zine, Banafish, John writes poetry and sarcastic articles such as "Memoirs From Hell." Through is newfound love for zines, he discovers the amazing Marisol, a "Puerto Rican Cuban Yankee Lesbian" who publishes the zine that inspired John, Escape Velocity. John is determined to meet the writer of this zine and when the two finally meet, they don't hit it off right away. But dysfunctional families and wanting to escape, have a way of bring people together...
This story seemed pretty typical to me, although when it was published it was probably less-of-the-norm. You have the cold hearted guy and the eccentric girl who draws him out of his shell and forces him to care. There's nothing really unpredictable about this book, for all of John's complaining, I would complain that he's fairly predictable. At least Marisol managed to surprise me every once in a while. I also didn't care for the ending as it left one relationship hanging in the balance, I would like to know if that relationship has been ended or if there is some hope to rekindling it. Also the actions of the parents are never fully explained, which is frustrating (and John should have been frustrated too).
John Galardi Jr. has told a lie to someone who hates liars, Marisol does not tell lies and can't abide anyone who tells them. John tells her his name is Giovanni (an authentic Italian names seems like something she would appreciate). Strike one. Strike two follows some time afterward when John realizes he has fallen in love with Marisol. Something Marisol feared and she used that fear to keep her distance. Marisol is the typical "cool" character, someone you would want to get to know, but never would because she looks so intimidating (wears all black) and keeps to herself. Initially, I thought I would have a hard time liking John because he is so mean to Brian, who is like a puppy dog, always finding him around and always chattering away about something. Furthermore, I was impatiently waiting for John to GO OFF on his parents and the fact that he never really did bothered me. But that's' more of a personality difference between myself and the main character. I could relate to John's neutral feelings towards things and the fact that he tried not to show any emotion. The issue of his sexuality is never flat out stated, but you can make an assumption. It was cool to learn about zines and I liked that the design of the book was similar to (I presume) the design of a zine. Even the writing was sort of slanted like it might appear in a magazine or a zine.
Hard Love is an average read that introduces two characters with potential, but neither is particularly interesting. The story was too predictable from the little love 'triangle' (if it can even be called that) to the reactions of the parents to certain events to the falling out the main characters have. No secondary characters are fully developed, they appear sporadically when John and Marisol need someone their own age to vent to, but not with. I liked the overall design of the book and part of its charm lies in some dated aspects of it. For some reason, it read like a book published in the '90s to me (especially when a car phone! was mentioned). I do have hope that the sequel, told from Marisol's point of view will be more interesting.
Male Monday is a meme I started in which I review a book with a male main character. Feel free to use this meme, although I would appreciate credit for the meme title. Leave your link in the comments :)
PS I wasn't a fan of the song the book is named after. The lyrics are nice but the song is too slow/hippy-ish for me.