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The #SVYALit Project: Bleed Like Me and Emotional Coercion, a guest post by Christa Desir (part 1)

The other day a blogger asked me what I wanted people to walk away from BLEED LIKE ME thinking about. This is always a tricky question because it implies that authors have this big agenda when it comes to their fictional stories. We do not. We’re telling stories. And yet, at the same time, it is hard to interact with me in any way (personally or through my books) without knowing I have pretty strong opinions about feminism and being a girl/woman. The reality of BLM is that at its core, it asks the question of what we’re willing to suck up to be loved.


And I think this question is an important one, particularly for girls. Because from the very moment we start being able to interact with other humans, we learn that much of our value is determined by who we are to men. It’s tiny messages, things like “Now you put your finger through Mommy’s ring” in Pat the Bunny. Mommy is a wife, don’t you know? And it’s also big messages, the abundance of weddings at the end of Disney princess movies. The princesses being saved over and over again by dudes. Yes, there are outliers (Thank you, Paper Bag Princess), but these are written more as a point of contrast, an intentional paradigm shift, than as an example of diversity in the genre. And think about how prominent this message is in everything we see. Where are the guy cheerleaders on the sidelines for women’s basketball games? Where are the reality TV shows about househusbands? There is a reason the Bechdel test came about in the first place. We are a gender-biased culture.

So after being spoon-fed this diet of bias as a child, it is certainly no wonder that so much of a straight teen girl’s life is spent worrying about/craving/obsessing over, etc. boyfriends. Do guys want this too? Of course. But their status, who they are as people, does not seem to hinge on their relationship (or lack of relationship) in quite the same way as girls.

When it came to creating a story for Gannon, it wasn’t that difficult to conceive of a girl who desperately wanted to be loved. She was unprotected by her parents and took it out on herself through self-injury, so when a guy came in to presumably save her from her loneliness, readers are hopeful that he can fix her. That he can love her enough.

But of course, he can’t. First, because he’s deeply broken himself. And second, because we do not get fixed by someone loving us. We get fixed by loving ourselves. And not only is Brooks not able to fix her, but he takes her vulnerability and uses it to his own advantage. He takes her need to be loved and manipulates it into a balm for himself. Because he can. Because she’s been spoon-fed the pudding of validation through men and so has he. He will feel better if he takes care of her, and she will feel better if she lets him. But they’re both missing parts and it turns into a game of emotional manipulation and co-dependency where no one can win.

And so emotional coercion becomes another issue to explore in young adult literature. Whether in obvious ways (Sarah Dessen’s Dreamland) or in more nuanced ways (Brandy Colbert’s Pointe), we need to start questioning the messages our children have absorbed about our culture and how they form their own self-worth. And more importantly, how a lack of self-worth can be manipulated by others and damage teenagers in very serious ways. 

About BLEED LIKE ME:

From the author of Fault Line comes an edgy and heartbreaking novel about two self-destructive teens in a Sid and Nancy-like romance full of passion, chaos, and dyed hair.

Seventeen-year-old Amelia Gannon (just “Gannon” to her friends) is invisible to almost everyone in her life. To her parents, to her teachers-even her best friend, who is more interested in bumming cigarettes than bonding. Some days the only way Gannon knows she is real is by carving bloody lines into the flesh of her stomach.

Then she meets Michael Brooks, and for the first time, she feels like she is being seen to the core of her being. Obnoxious, controlling, damaged, and addictive, he inserts himself into her life until all her scars are exposed. Each moment together is a passionate, painful relief.

But as the relationship deepens, Gannon starts to feel as if she’s standing at the foot of a dam about to burst. She’s given up everything and everyone in her life for him, but somehow nothing is enough for Brooks-until he poses the ultimate test.

Bleed Like Me is a piercing, intimate portrayal of the danger of a love so obsessive it becomes its own biggest threat. (Goodreads description)

BLEED LIKE ME by Christa Desir will be released on October 7, 2014 by Simon Pulse. ISBN: 9781442498907  

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