Teen Librarian Toolbox
Inside Teen Librarian Toolbox

Book Review: Until it Hurts to Stop by Jennifer R. Hubbard


If you follow me on Twitter, you know that when people start talking about romance I ask time and time again: Where are the books where a boy and a girl are friends and slowly, sweetly realize one day that they are in love?  THIS.  This is that book.  For that fact alone this book gets ALL THE STARS.


Until It Hurts to Stop by Jennifer R. Hubbard takes an interesting look at bullying through the eyes of Maggie.  Maggie was bullied relentlessly in middle school by Raleigh Barringer.  Although Raleigh moves away, the after effects still haunt Maggie in the ways she sees herself and in the way she is always on guard, waiting for some secret attack.  And then, the worst thing ever happens: Raleigh moves back.

Maggie has two best friends: Nick and Sylvie.  Although Maggie isn’t always a great friend to Sylvie (she often becomes engrossed in her own problems and doesn’t recognize things going on in Sylvie’s life), this is on the whole a good look at friendships of various sorts.

So, here are a few things I loved about Until it Hurts to Stop:

1)  The relationship between Nick and Maggie.  They are great friends and when that friendship is strained, they really try and find ways to work through it.  It is such a fantastic relationship, loved it.

2) Maggie is haunted and struggles with a lot of self-esteem issues, but she is in many ways authentically herself and is not your typical YA novel girl.  She is not fashion oriented, she is not a Queen Bee or a Wannabe, and – my favorite – she is very outdoorsy and into things like hiking.  A girl who hikes – this makes me happy in the way it represents a different (and under-represented) teen girl.

3) At some point before we ever meet Sylvia, she has already wrestled with her sexuality and is very comfortably out and in a committed relationship with another girl which the people in her life are very accepting of.  There is no angst, no wrestling, no hand wringing.  Just a gay girl at peace with her sexuality.

4) This is truly an interesting perspective on bullying because no bullying happens in the book, but the effects of it are very clearly and very emotionally depicted.

5) This is really a clean, straightforward read.  It’s a book you can put into the hands of any patron and not have to worry about a parent coming back to you and challenging the book.  I know that I often have parents that want “clean” reads and this fits the bill.  There is an instance where Maggie wonders if Nick has given his virginity to the girl he is dating, but it is not graphic in any way.

I thought the book was kind of a slow start (but then I read a lot of dystopian, thrillers, etc. and they always have the big open), but once you get into the rhythm of the story I really connected with the characters and was rooting for Maggie and Nick.  It’s almost an updated take on Anne of Green Gables in pacing and its look at friendships, although Maggie lacks Anne’s confidence throughout most of the book.  Definitely recommended, this is a slow but beautiful unfolding of a young girl learning to love herself and the life she is living despite the heartache of the past.  Pair this with Guitar Notes by Mary Amato and The Sweetest Thing by Christina Mandelski for a list of clean, sweet contemporary looks at love.  Many people will look at this as a contemporary tale about bullying, but I view it more as a moving coming of age love story for a teen that is haunted by the bullying of her past.  3.5 out of 5 stars.

Until it Stops to Hurt by Jennifer R. Hubbard.  Viking press, September 2013.  ISBN: 978-0-670-7852909

But is it love? Romance in YA Lit (guest post by Jennifer R. Hubbard)

When writing romantic story lines, I like to differentiate between the various shades of infatuation, obsession, lust, and love. It’s easy to mistake one for another, and it can be especially confusing for people who are dealing with these emotions for the first time. Also, human emotions are not always purely one thing or another, but can be mixtures.

I think of obsession and infatuation as intense, often fleeting, fascinations with an idealized version of another person. This fills a need in the infatuated person, and if the infatuation is mutual, the attraction can burn white-hot. But as illusions crumble and the real people involved fail to live up to their idealized images, the infatuation gives way to something more genuine—whether it’s dislike, indifference, friendship, or a longer-lasting love. 
Lust, which is physical attraction, often confuses people. Many have grappled with attractions to people they don’t even like, or have begun a physical relationship to discover, at some point, that the relationship has nothing else to sustain it. 
Love, on the other hand, is the whole ball of wax. It’s attraction, affection, and connection. It tends to be more reality-based than infatuation: flaws in the other person are acknowledged and accepted. The partners support one another and value each other’s strengths. Another aspect of love is that it enriches each partner: while love can involve some sacrifice, neither partner has to tolerate abuse nor a diminishment of self in order to sustain the relationship.

He loves me, he loves me not?
Any of these kinds of relationships can be the basis for a good story. I think of Wuthering Heightsas a classic obsession/infatuation story: Heathcliff and Cathy are miserable, selfish, and jealous, tormenting one another into the grave (and, arguably, beyond). Pride and Prejudice is more of a love story, with Darcy and Elizabeth finding that their attraction to each other’s finer qualities can overcome negative first impressions.
Some interesting explorations of the whole romantic spectrum appear in recent YA literature. Here’s just a sampling: The Stalker Chronicles, by Carley Moore (a girl confronts her own tendency for her crushes to go way overboard); Flash Burnout, by L.K. Madigan (a boy’s loyalties are divided between his girlfriend and a girl who’s a friend); But I Love Him, by Amanda Grace (girl struggles with an abusive relationship); David Inside Out, by Lee Bantle (dishonesty destroys relationships); I Heart You, You Haunt Me, by Lisa Schroeder (girl grieves her boyfriend’s death); Good Girls, by Laura Ruby (overwhelming physical attraction proves difficult to handle); Nothing Like You, by Lauren Strasnick (girl seeks physical relationship for comfort); and Struts & Frets, by Jon Skovron (friends become more). The love interests in Willow, by Julia Hoban; Shrinking Violet, by Danielle Joseph; and Some Girls Are, by Courtney Summers, are especially appealing.
In the reader guide to my own first novel, The Secret Year, I include this question: “Is this a love story?” It has led to some great discussion at the book clubs I’ve visited. It’s a question that can be applied to many texts—and even to our own lives.
 Jennifer R. Hubbard is the author of YA novels The Secret Year (After his secret girlfriend’s death, 17-year-old Colt finds the notebook she left behind, but he is unprepared for the truths he discovers about their intense relationship) and Try Not to Breathe (After his suicide attempt, 16-year-old Ryan struggles with guilty secrets and befriends a girl who’s visiting psychics to try to reach her dead father). The Secret Year was on YALSA’s 2011 Quick Picks list; Try Not to Breathe has been nominated for the 2013 YALSA BFYA list.
Twitter: @JennRHubbard
blog: http://jenniferrhubbard.blogspot.com/

What are your favorite ya love stories? Tell us in the comments.