Thursday, July 31, 2008

Love & Lies: Even Harder Love

Love and LiesMarisol's Story by Ellen Wittlinger
4Q 3P Audience: J/S (recommended for high school students)

Warning: While this post doesn't reveal that much more than the synopsis in our catalog, it definitely is spoiler-ish in nature. I consider this book an "it's not the destination, it's the journey" type of book, but if the destination is what's important to you as a reader, come back and read this after you've finished the book.

I was thrilled to learn that Ellen Wittlinger had written a companion novel to Hard Love, one of the very first Printz Honor books. In that novel, Gio falls in love with Marisol, despite the fact that she's a self-described "Puerto Rican Cuban Yankee Cambridge, Massachusetts, rich spoiled lesbian private-school gifted-and-talented writer virgin looking for love." After Marisol breaks his heart twice over (at least), Gio finally realizes both that love is hard and that Marisol is not the girl for him, and the two go their separate ways. It is a beautifully written book, well deserving of all the praise heaped upon it. I honestly don't remember every detail of the book, but there are certain scenes that I've never gotten out of my head. Wittlinger creates characters I really care about, and often it is her secondary characters who capture my attention most. Two of her books left me with a sensation I don't often get when I read: I worried about what happened to the characters after the book ended. I'm still (very) worried about Razzle, but now I know that Marisol survived unscathed from what I thought was a very poor decision. She was lucky. But she doesn't walk away from this book unscathed. Not by a long shot.

Marisol has two goals in this gap year she's taking before she heads to Stanford and college: write a novel and fall in love. How hard could that be?

As it turns out, it's much harder than expected. Oh, not the writing thing so much. Marisol is a good writer, and she knows it. She feels only the slightest of butterflies when she signs up for an Adult Education class called Writing Your First Novel. She fully expects to be the star of the class, and she is. What she doesn't expect is the absolute swarm of butterflies she gets at her first look at the instructor, Olivia Frost. Olivia is stunning. She wants attention and knows how to get it. She especially gets it from Marisol, who is soon head over heels in love. And it's just,, definite! that Olivia has feelings for her, too. Bliss!

Not bliss? What kind of love is it that makes you lie to your friends, your lover, and yourself? And just who lying to who?

We get old friends and new here. Birdie, Marisol's best friend, is now sharing an apartment with her. He brings home Damon, a college friend/potential lover. Marisol doesn't see the attraction, either as roommate or lover. The interplay between the boys and between Marisol and the boys add humor and sweetness to Marisol's story. I confess that Birdie didn't make much of an impression on me in Hard Love, but I appreciate him more here. Like all true friends, Birdie isn't afraid to tell Marisol a few home truths now and then, but he also always has her back. Marisol also has a new friend, Lee, an Indiana fish out of water newly out of the closet. Lee is deceptively quiet, which makes it easy for Marisol to take her lightly at first. However, it becomes clear eventually that Lee is nobody's patsy. Lee probably isn't destined to be one of those stand-out characters for me (I found her a little too pale a character for a little too long), but I admire the way she stands up for herself. Best of all (though a little too conveniently for believability's sake), Gio is back . He seems to be in a much better place now, which I was very pleased to see. And I really enjoyed seeing him call Marisol on her stuff, partly because it was what she needed to hear and partly because it shows how far he's come. The relationship between these two characters works. It feels real and they feel real, and all of the stuff that came between them before just deepens their relationship.

Marisol goes through a lot in this book. Some of it she brings on herself. It can't be denied that Marisol thinks highly of herself and doesn't always think enough about the people around her. She enjoys being the center of attention, whether or not it's always deserved. But she truly is talented, and she does have a caring heart. And her yearning to be loved is familiar to almost everyone. As a reader, I wanted her to fall in love with someone wonderful, to have her first love be one that would always make her smile. My heart ached as I watched that not happen. As always, Wittlinger left me thinking about her characters and wondering where they were going next. But unlike in Hard Love, I wasn't worried about Marisol at the end of this one. She may be wounded, but I got the feeling that her own hard love will make her less self-centered, wiser, and stronger. She's going to be okay.

Check out TeacherTrenches for a really interesting interview with Ellen Wittlinger. (I'm linking to Part One. There will be a Part Two shortly.)


  1. i agree with what you said although i think marisol wouldn't have eaten those donuts in chapter 2.

    didn't like the book, but I could have anyways.

    i don't read blogs!



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