Debut novelists in the Young Adult genre agree that the deep impact felt by teens in love too often gets overlooked by adults. Author of the popular WVMP series of adult novels, Jeri Smith-Ready makes her debut as a YA author this year with her novel SHADE (Simon Pulse; May 4). Smith-Ready recalls “hearing adults chuckle over our [teen] heartbreaks, like, “Oh, how cute. Remember when things were simple?” Losing someone you love is NOT cute or simple. It’s the end of the world.” In Smith-Ready’s exciting paranormal novel, her “main character Aura is already in love with her first boyfriend Logan at the beginning of the book. This first love is tested—by his rock star ambitions, their failed attempts at intimacy (aka sex), and finally by his death and ghosthood.”
Fellow Class of 2k10 member and debut author Shannon Delany (13 TO LIFE: A WEREWOLF’S TALE; St. Martin’s Press, June 22) also agrees adults often accidentally marginalize first love. “As teens, things are so new, exciting and fresh. Things feel sharper somehow—emotions run higher and hurt cuts deeper.” Delany’s main character, Jessie, struggles to figure out the difference between emotions that can grow into love versus the power of crushes.
“There’s a reason they’re called crushes,” Delany suggests. “Those emotions hit suddenly and are so powerful they’ll crush everything else out of you.”
For many teens, crushes and first love help define them. Denise Jaden, author of LOSING FAITH (Simon Pulse; September 7) says, “A crush is different from love. My main character explores both sides of this through the novel, and it’s not until she experiences true love that she really starts to find out who she is.” Jaden’s novel “opens with Brie Jenkins planning her “first time” with her boyfriend.” The author says, “I won’t say what happens, but Brie eventually ends up with another boy, the first boy she can really trust. There are a lot of firsts for these two as they find safety in each other in the midst of their very unsafe worlds.”
Crushes and the blossoming of love help author Shari Maurer’s character Emmi (CHANGE OF HEART; WestSide Books; April 23) cope. “As Emmi starts getting sick and things get serious, she notices that Sam seems to like her. The growing romance helps distract her from her fears about her health.” The ability teens have to focus on things their grown-up counterparts might glaze over as being of lesser importance gives Emmi strength. Maurer says, “…even when facing a medical crisis, she [Emmi] still has time to worry about boys and her friends and other seemingly minor things.”
Author Kristina McBride (THE TENSION OF OPPOSITES; Egmont; May 25) reminds readers that “there are many different types of love. Some are healthy. Some are not. I hope that after reading this [her debut novel], teens consider what types of love they will allow into their own lives.” McBride points out “They [different types of love relationships] are modeled around us daily, and many of us can relate personally to some of the unhealthy relationships found in THE TENSION OF OPPOSITES.”
Must Friendship End When Teen Romance Begins?
Denise Jaden says of her characters in LOSING FAITH, “I don’t think the romance is integral as much as the trust between them. If they had never kissed, their relationship as friends would have still been enough to bolster them into making the changes they needed to make in their lives.”
In debut author Judith Graves’ paranormal novel UNDER MY SKIN (Leap Books, March 27) “Eryn’s perception of love is tainted. She hasn’t let people into her heart for a long time. As the plot develops and the relationships grow, Eryn (a wolven shapeshifter) begins to view her new friends/family as pack. The ultimate love she could give. Since Eryn’s a fighter, this is shown through her desire to protect.” Graves reminds readers love is not just some romantic ideal, it’s also an important component to building strong friendships and families.
In Jennifer R. Hubbard’s recently released debut novel (THE SECRET YEAR) “the main character, Colt, has two relationships with girls that begin as friendships. In one case, he is drawn into a situation that’s more than he wanted, when his long-time friend Sydney needs closeness and support at a bad time in her life. Because Colt is not completely honest with her about how he feels, that relationship gets rocky very quickly, hurting not only the romance but the friendship.” Hubbard adds, “In the other case, Colt sustains a more enduring relationship with a girl named Kirby, and it’s no accident that he is much more honest with her from the beginning. In the case of Kirby, the friendship didn’t end when the romance began; the romance was better because of the friendship.”
“Love and other powerful types of emotions can test friendships, as happens in 13 to Life,” Delany says. “It doesn’t mean that friendship has to end when love begins, but friendships will change. Some will deepen and some will dissolve. But life, like werewolves, is all about change.”
Is Teen Love Built to Last?
Although author Jeri Smith-Ready is quick to point out that there is probably no such thing as the “normal teenage experience,” she hopes the strength and growth of the relationship in SHADE resonates with readers. “Even death can’t destroy Logan and Aura’s love. His ghost remains a huge part of her life, which solves some problems (sex is no longer an issue) but brings lots of new challenges.”
Delany’s characters face challenges of their own. “As if being a teen isn’t tough enough, the struggles between love and concepts of loyalty, honesty and friendship put Jessie and Pietr to the test time and time again. Love is seldom simple and they have things pressing in on them from all sides as the story unfolds.” Delany says that although her paranormal definitely has what her editor likes to call “werewolf-y goodness” and “supernatural funk” it’s still very much a novel about normal teen issues.
Smith-Ready says, “I think for a lot of people, that first love is the one we hang onto harder and longer than any other. We fight for it to last, sometimes way longer than it should.”
Love Changes Things
If characters are supposed to grow and evolve during the course of novels, is love a major force pushing those changes? Of her novel LOSING FAITH, Denise Jaden says “Finding a safe place to be herself changes everything for Brie. She no longer needs to strive to fit in, and for the first time, she can see who she really is.” Sometimes the power of love doesn’t just change us, it changes our perception and our entire world.
In the beginning of Maurer’s CHANGE OF HEART “Emmi and her best friend Becca had a pact that they wouldn’t have sex in high school. I like the fact that they had empowered themselves like this. Things change as the story progresses that make them question their decision, but it’s a great thing for a teen girl to be able to feel like she can control this part of her life.”
In UNDER MY SKIN “The feelings wolven shapeshifter Eryn develops for Alec – a human, and Wade – a vampire, are confusing and scary. The bonds these three characters forge are crucial to Eryn’s motivations throughout the story, causing her to take risks, to face her inner demon and come out the other side a changed person.”
And things aren’t static for the characters in THE TENSION OF OPPOSITES either. “As Tessa’s best friend, Noelle, returns home after a two-year abduction, Tessa struggles to connect with her and regain the lost friendship. Many things get in the way, one of which is the new (very hot) guy named Max. Tessa’s relationship with Max causes her to question everything she has done since Noelle’s kidnapping. Namely, her failure to live her own life.”
“Love does remarkable things to us,” 13 TO LIFE’s author claims. “It blinds us at the same time it betters us. It tests our perceptions and helps define us in both life and literature.”
Change can often bring epiphany as it does for CHANGE OF HEART’s Emmi. “Without giving too much away, I think she [Emmi] thinks love can only be one way, but realizes that love sometimes comes from places that surprise you,” Maurer states.
With Valentine’s Day upon us, dances and the inevitable break ups, first dates and high drama, some debut YA authors hope we all remember to try and be patient and supportive. As LOSING FAITH’s author Denise Jaden points out, “Teens can have much more depth than they’re often given credit for,” and “all relationships, teen or otherwise, are as unique as the individuals involved in them.”
The authors quoted above may be contacted separately through the following websites and are receptive to interviews:
These authors and more can also be contacted through Class of 2K10.com.
Comment to Win
Shannon Delany’s also going to give away a couple prizes to one lucky random commenter. The winner will score a 13 TO LIFE pin (shiny!), some tasty chocolate and a copy of Rachel Hawthorne’s trade paperback MOONLIGHT. One winner will be chosen by February 28th!