Review: Ellen Wittlinger – Hard Love

Hard Love
Ellen Wittlinger

John has protected himself by withdrawing, since his parents divorced. Marisol is protected behind her self-identity as a lesbian and a racial minority. They’re both pretty friendless, but John chooses to reach out, and Marisol responds in her own way.

I thought this novel had potential. I’ve loved other novels by Ellen Wittlinger, and I expected to love this one. I’m not sure I did though, and let me tell you why.
The ideas behind letting John explore his sexuality are nice. We’re pitting someone who has no idea whether he is attracted to anyone against someone who knows they are a lesbian. Combine with with some things that say that they aren’t really listening to each other, and you get trouble. Equally, even though he turns out to be hetero, he could have equally been asexual or something else on the continuum, and I would have been happy. Possibly happier. With a lesbian main character, you’re going to get less conservative people reading the novel, so why not go for it?
I hated Marisol sometimes. She seemed to me like an untouchable, distant, dictator. I particularly hated her at the end. It’s one thing to be from a small town, and not experience your sexuality, and another to have sex with the first Lesbians you meet, and head off with them into the dark!
I understood John only too well. After being injured by his parents’ divorce, he felt as if his whole world was shattering, and the only way he knew to cope was to not talk about anyway, not let anything out. His mother won’t touch him, which I find very symbolic. He tries not to feel anything about himself.
The zines that brought Marisol and John together made me feel like I was out of touch with young people. I can’t even imagine people doing that here. Where do they get the money from to print these things? It seems like an outdated blogging technique to me. I want to feel touched by the pages of zines that were interspersed throughout the rest of the text, but I just couldn’t get into it.
When I compare this novel to Eleanor and Park, it comes up lacking in terms of convincing, likeable, relatable characters. So much potential, and yet not as much as it promises.
I own the companion novel to this one. I’m not sure that I want to read it right now. Maybe in a couple of months, when the disappointment of this one has worn off.

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