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One in Three: Teen Dating Violence and Michelle Carter – a guest post by author Heather Demetrios

Today we are honored to have Bad Romance author Heather Demetrios with us to talk about teen dating violence. She shares her experiences and thoughts regarding this serious issue and her recent release, Bad Romance.

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As a young adult author, I think a lot about what it feels like to be young and in love. It’s my job to figure out what makes a teen tick, what concerns them and influences them, what keeps them up at night. I often have to delve into my own past to do this with accuracy, mining my own adolescent struggles in order to articulate the teen experience with authenticity and compassion. Michelle Carter’s trial and recent sentencing to serve fifteen months in jail for her involvement in her boyfriend, Conrad Roy’s suicide has forced me to go back, once again, to the abusive relationship I was in during high school, one that led me to contemplate suicide myself and ultimately led me to write my most recent YA novel, Bad Romance (Macmillan / Holt June 2017). Like Conrad Roy, I wavered, undecided: I’d go so far as to grab a knife and hold it in my hand and wonder: how much will it hurt? Obviously I never went through with it, but, unlike Conrad, I had people in my life begging me not to kill myself, rather than a significant other encouraging me to go through with it. My significant other was the reason I wanted to end my life, and, in this, Conrad Roy and I are kin: we were teenagers whose partners held incredible sway over our very lives simply through their words: manipulative and cruel comments, suggestions, and demands that were hypnotic in their power to move us toward self harm.

Michelle Carter’s trial ended in a landmark ruling of manslaughter, one with far-reaching legal implications that lawmakers are, at present, attempting to untangle and which will be further examined in the appeals process. Her sentencing underscores what many people believe to be true: even if you didn’t pull the trigger (so to speak), your hand can still be on the gun. Regardless of whether or not Michelle Carter’s sentence was fair or if she should have even been on trial in the first places, there is this to contend with: teenager is dead in part because of his abusive girlfriend. This came as no surprise to me and, I doubt, to the thousands of people who have been, or are currently in, abusive relationships, physical or otherwise. And yet the larger problem of abuse hasn’t been the focus of this conversation. The controversial nature of the trial and sentencing has eclipsed what this tragedy is about: teen dating violence.

I want you to keep this number in mind: three. According to Love is Respect, a non-profit working to help teens in abusive relationships, Teen Dating Violence affects one in three teens in the United States. TDV isn’t limited to physical and sexual abuse—it includes emotional and verbal abuse which, as we’ve seen in the case of Michelle Carter and Conrad Roy, can be just as damaging as wounds that leave marks. The texts and phone calls between Ms. Roy and her boyfriend are a chilling example of the power young people are able to exert over one another and the vulnerability of teens in these abusive relationships. When Roy turned to his girlfriend, admitting his suicidal thoughts just a day before he was found dead, this is one of the conversations through text he and Carter had, as transcribed by the Wasshington Post:

Carter: So I guess you aren’t gonna do it then, all that for nothing…I’m just confused like you were so ready and determined.

Roy: I am gonna eventually. I really don’t know what I’m waiting for…but I have everything lined up.

Carter: No you’re not, Conrad. Last night was it. You keep pushing it off and you say you’ll do it but u never do. Its always gonna be that way if u don’t take action. You’re just making it harder on yourself by pushing it off, you just have to do it. If u don’t do it now you’re never gonna do it.

This is textbook abuse here. Carter’s employing manipulation, exploiting her boyfriend’s weakness while masquerading in the guise of an encouraging supporter in order to get him to do something she wants. This is just one of many disturbing interactions between the couple in which Carter establishes and maintains the unequal distribution of power between them. And it’s so easy. It takes seconds to send a text, to take part in ending a life with just a few words. This alone is reason to be more concerned than ever about teen dating violence. Technology gives abusers more access than ever to their partner. Intimate, dangerous conversations such as these can happen any time, anywhere. Social media gives jealous partners unlimited fuel for fire. Tracking apps allow boyfriends to see exactly where their girlfriends are at any given moment. The possibilities are endless.

To use the vernacular of my genre, being young and in love sucks. You’re a walking wound: all your insecurities and fears and hurts are on display and that vulnerability makes you a target if your boyfriend or girlfriend so desires. And because you’re young and haven’t yet figured out how to put on your armor each day, you often go into battle with nothing but your desire to be loved. To be seen. To matter. This can result in hellacious highs and lows that feel so life and death—and, as we’ve seen in the case of Michelle Carter and Conrad Roy, can often actually be life and death. Through pop psychology, we all now know that the whole “sticks and stones” mentality is retrograde: words can hurt, and they do. Since Bad Romance came out, I’ve had so many readers who have reached out to me about their bad romances—teens and adults alike. Whether I’m talking to librarians in Texas, the young publishing crowd in New York City, or teens at a school visit in Vermont, there will always be more than one woman in the group who says, Me too. Me too. There is always relief in these interactions, as though a window has been opened in a stuffy room. As though these women are finally giving themselves permission to admit what they’ve been through.

Jay Asher’s 13 Reasons Why has helped bring to light how many teens struggle with suicide, a conversation that needs to be had—and often. But we need to start talking about teen dating violence with the same gravity. Several organizations, such as Love is Respect, Day One, and Planned Parenthood, are trying to help teens through campaigns on Tumblr that aim to educate kids about what constitutes a healthy relationship and how to get help. Through the support and efforts of former Vice President Joe Biden, February is now Teen Dating Violence Awareness month. There are hotlines and online quizzes and free resources for teens—Day One even offers legal aid and in-person counseling to teens in the New City area. The efforts of countless teachers, social workers, and survivors is all in the hopes of changing that 1 in 3 number, to empower teens through education so that they know their rights, understand what is and isn’t healthy in a relationship, and to avoid tragedies like Conrad Roy’s suicide. What I think is particularly important to note in Roy’s experience is how the expected roles are reversed: here, the female is the abuser. For most people in abusive relationships, shame plays a huge role. In the age of Queen Bey and Nasty Women, no one wants to be seen as a doormat. This is even more so for teen boys in abusive relationships, who may find it very hard to admit that their girlfriends are abusing them, for fear of being seen weak or less masculine. The more we have these conversations in the open, the easier it will be for teens of any gender to get the help they need.

Though nothing “good” can come of what happened between Michelle Carter and Conrad Roy, the tragedy can be used as an opportunity to take a good, long look at the influx of teen dating violence and its far-reaching implications. I can’t help but think of my teen self: what would she have done if she’d heard about what Michelle Carter did? Would she have seen a bit of herself in Conrad Roy? I don’t think so. She would have needed to hear that teen dating violence isn’t just relegated to boyfriends who slap their girlfriends, or girlfriends who tell their boyfriends to kill themselves. She would have needed to see and hear, again and again, that jealousy and manipulation and control have no place in a healthy relationship. She would have needed teachers and parents and other adults who could recognize the signs of an abusive relationship and not just relegate that to teen drama. The stakes in young love are high and, yes, they can be life and death. And the sooner we respect the seriousness of teen relationships and validate the emotional pain teens are going through rather than grumbling about hormones, the sooner we can save the next Conrad Roy.

To that end, I’m offering free Skype sessions to teachers and librarians for their classroom or events with teens to help raise awareness about teen dating violence and get this important conversation started. I wrote Bad Romance for the express purpose of reaching teens who are in unhealthy relationships to help give them the courage to get out and, even more, I wrote it so that teens can avoid such relationships altogether—and help their friends do so, as well. I also have a resource guide which you can access here, in addition to loads of inspiration and information for teens on the Bad Romance website. I also have some availability for in-person workshops and school/library visits. Please don’t hesitate to reach out to me with questions. Together, I know we can change these statistics and help the teens in our lives have the healthy relationships they deserve.

Meet Author Heather Demetrios

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When Heather Demetrios isn’t traipsing around the world or spending time in imaginary places, she lives with her husband in New York City. Originally from Los Angeles, she now calls the East Coast home. Heather has an MFA in Writing for Children and Young Adults from Vermont College of Fine Arts and is a recipient of the PEN New England Susan P. Bloom Discovery Award for her debut novel, Something Real. Her critically acclaimed novels include Exquisite Captive, I’ll Meet You There, and Bad Romance. She is the editor of the forthcoming anthology of epistolary essays, Dear Heartbreak: YA Authors on the Dark Side of Love, which features letters from real teens. Find out more about Heather and her books at www.heatherdemetrios.com. Tweet to @HDemetrios.

About BAD ROMANCE

Grace wants out. Out of her house, where her stepfather wields fear like a weapon and her mother makes her scrub imaginary dirt off the floors. Out of her California town, too small to contain her big city dreams. Out of her life, and into the role of Parisian artist, New York director—anything but scared and alone.

Enter Gavin: charming, talented, adored. Controlling. Dangerous. When Grace and Gavin fall in love, Grace is sure it’s too good to be true. She has no idea their relationship will become a prison she’s unable to escape.

Deeply affecting and unflinchingly honest, this is a story about spiraling into darkness—and emerging into the light again.

Sense Shaming in YA: How Could She Let that Happen? a guest post by and interview with S.M. Parker

girl who“How could she let that happen?” is a question asked far too often when a girl is the victim of dating violence or domestic abuse. It implies the abuse was her fault. That she was not smart enough to distance herself from the abuse. It implies that walking away from abuse is simple. And it assumes that abuse is easy to spot.

 

Just as “Slut Shaming” degrades a girl for embracing or exploring her sexuality, I would propose that “Sense Shaming” degrades a girl for not having the sense—the intelligence or agency—to avoid a manipulative, abusive relationship. But the intricacies of an abusive relationship are typically subtle and insidious in their development. My YA debut THE GIRL WHO FELL (reviewed here on Teen Librarian Toolbox) explores how this type of manipulation and isolation can happen to anyone. Smart girls. Driven Girls. Focused Girls. Any girl.

 

In THE GIRL WHO FELL, our main character, Zephyr Doyle, experiences her sexual awakening. She finds love in a boy that appears to be kind and caring and trusting. He listens to her words, understands her fears and accepts her insecurities without judgement. The boy builds a storm of intoxicating trust made of shared secrets, deep kisses and unwavering support. But the boy wants more. He wants to control Zephyr. Keep her close. Own her.

 

Gradually, Zephyr stops focusing on her friends, sports, and academics. She wants to give her boy what he wants because she is in love. Some say that reading THE GIRL WHO FELL is like watching a friend navigate an unhealthy relationship and you want to scream “NO!” over and over again. It is so easy for the reader to see how the relationship is flawed, but Zephyr is blinded to the toxicity. Not because she is stupid. Not because she has no sense. But because she is being manipulated by a person who knows how to play upon her deepest insecurities.

 

This mirrors reality. According to Love Is Respect, “one in three teens in the U.S. will experience physical, sexual or emotional abuse by someone they are in a relationship with before they become adults.” Most of these girls will not realize they are in an abusive relationship right away, while their friends and family may see it all too clearly. Victimized girls will need the support and strength of friends to gain their freedom from the unhealthy relationship. Each of these girls deserve not to be judged, shamed or ridiculed because a boy thought love was gaining control over her every move, her every ambition.

 

THE GIRL WHO FELL is a novel that embraces the power of one’s voice and the strength it takes to reclaim your voice. It is, at its core, a hopeful book. It explores a tough subject matter that won’t be for everyone, though I hope it helps readers to see that manipulation can happen to anyone. THE GIRL WHO FELL illustrates how abuse is never the victim’s fault. That victims are not alone. That love should never hurt. And that blaming the victim is not a solution.

 

Amanda’s interview with Shannon

Amanda: What inspired examining an abusive relationship in The Girl Who Fell?

Shannon: There are so many books about the magic of first love. How it is tempting and luscious and beautiful. But it is also so dangerous. You ask yourself: Can I trust this person with my heart? My body? My dreams? And there are plenty of books that scream YES to these questions. They are the books of Happily Ever After.

 

I wanted to write a story that explored the dangers of first love. What happens when you can’t trust the person you love? What happens when love turns toxic? And how does a strong and determined girl fall for a charming boy who is—at his core—awful and damaged (and damaging)?

 

I wanted to write this story because I know it is a reality for countless teens and I don’t think it is talked about enough.

 

While writing THE GIRL WHO FELL, I wanted readers to fall for Alec’s manipulation alongside Zephyr and maybe begin to understand how this type of “fall” can happen, even to the smartest, most driven teenage girl. How falling doesn’t mean you are weak. And that you shouldn’t feel shame.

 

I wanted to write a book that tells girls that they always, ALWAYS have the right to regain their voice.

 

Amanda: What research did you have to do? What did you learn from researching and writing this story?

Shannon: My research for THE GIRL WHO FELL was mostly anecdotal. I am fortunate that I get to spend my days working with teens in an alternative education program. Much of that time is spent listening. Listening to the stories of young adults made one rise in me. And I am forever grateful for organization like LoveIsRespect that provide statistics, tools, and hope.

 

Amanda: Did you make major changes to the story or the characters from when you conceived of the idea to its final draft?

Shannon: Yes. In fact, I made major changes to the book after it sold to Simon & Schuster. I am fortunate to have a brilliant editor in Nicole Ellul and she helped me to see that the relationship between Zephyr and Alec had to build more slowly, so the reader would “fall” alongside Zephyr and understand her choices. But Alec never changed much in revisions; the DNA of his character—and the arc of manipulation—remained the same throughout revisions.

 

Amanda: For those of us raising boys, what important things can we be doing so they don’t grow up to be monsters like Alec?

Shannon: Oh, that is a big question! I’m also a mom to boys and wouldn’t want to witness either son to become a manipulator, or fall victim to manipulation. I try to teach my sons to practice indiscriminate kindness. I’m a firm believer that kindness is contagious, and the world could use a whole lot more of it. But also, teaching respect is key. Not only the respect to treat other humans as their equals, but to not judge someone who makes different choices than they would.  In my professional life and personal life, I listen a lot. I hope my sons will understand the power of listening to—and really hearing—other people’s stories. I hope they will grow up to be men that treat each unique human experience with kindness and respect.

Thank you so much for having me on TLT today, Amanda! I’ve so enjoyed speaking with you about THE GIRL WHO FELL and the issues it explores.

 

Meet Shannon Parker

Shannon_HeadshotShannon M. Parker lives on the coast of Maine with her husband and sons. As a young adult, she traveled dozens of countries and still has a few dozen more to go. She spends her days working in education and holds degrees from three New England universities. She can usually be found rescuing dogs, chickens, old houses and wooden boats. Shannon has a weakness for chocolate chip cookies and ridiculous laughter—ideally, at the same time. The Girl Who Fell is her first novel. Find her at www.shannonmparker.com

Book Review: The Girl Who Fell by S.M. Parker

Come back later today for a guest post from S.M. Parker, author of The Girl Who Fell

 

Publisher’s description

girl whoIn this gripping debut novel, high school senior Zephyr Doyle is swept off her feet—and into an intense and volatile relationship—by the new boy in school.

His obsession.
Her fall.

Zephyr Doyle is focused. Focused on leading her team to the field hockey state championship and leaving her small town for her dream school, Boston College.

But love has a way of changing things.

Enter the new boy in school: the hockey team’s starting goaltender, Alec. He’s cute, charming, and most important, Alec doesn’t judge Zephyr. He understands her fears and insecurities—he even shares them. Soon, their relationship becomes something bigger than Zephyr, something she can’t control, something she doesn’t want to control.

Zephyr swears it must be love. Because love is powerful, and overwhelming, and…terrifying?

But love shouldn’t make you abandon your dreams, or push your friends away. And love shouldn’t make you feel guilty—or worse, ashamed.

So when Zephyr finally begins to see Alec for who he really is, she knows it’s time to take back control of her life.

If she waits any longer, it may be too late.

 

Amanda’s thoughts

Two things I would wish for readers of this book: don’t read the blurb and skip the initial chapter, which shows us a scene from near the end of the story. I know—neither wish is realistically going to come true, but skipping those two items allows for a much slower reveal and unraveling of who Alec really is. I was on high “I HATE YOU” alert from the second he appeared in Zephyr’s classroom, thanks to knowing ahead of time what a monster he turns out to be. That quibble aside, this book was a phenomenally powerful read. 

 

Zephyr’s life is in transition. It’s senior year and while she’s excited to leave Sudbury, New Hampshire for college—hopefully Boston College—she’s also a little nervous and adrift. Her dad bailed on her 18th birthday, moving out and leaving behind an extremely hurt and rejected kid. It seems like everyone is figuring out their futures, but Zephyr’s plagued by doubts and insecurities. When her best friend, Gregg, kisses her, their friendship becomes yet another thing that feels uncertain. They’ve been close friends forever and are planning to go to college together. Zephyr’s upset that he put them in that situation (with the kiss) and her rejection and reaction sting Gregg. Enter Alec, the new guy, transplanted to the public school from a private boarding school. He instantly makes it clear that he’s into Zephyr. She can’t believe that this cute, considerate, doting guy is into her. Their relationship becomes intense really quickly.

 

Because the blurb and first chapter set us up to have our radars on alert for troublesome behavior from Alec, it’s easy to see all of the worrying signs of what becomes an abusive relationship. Before long, Alec doesn’t want her to hang out with Gregg (he’s threatened), wants her to ditch important events, is calling her obsessively, gets bent out of shape about EVERYTHING, and wants her to completely change her future plans for him. Zephyr goes along with all of this because she thinks it’s love. She’s lost and hurting and craves Alec’s attention and, at times, affection. She often understands that things he’s asking her or ways he’s behaving aren’t right, but she erases those thoughts every time by remembering they’re in love and how planning a future.

 

The story plays out how you think it will: Alec’s increasingly controlling and abusive. Parker doesn’t hold back when it comes to showing what a terrifying and violent creep Alec is. This book wasn’t easy to read. As an adult, as a woman, as a parent, I kept wanting to jump into the book and help Zephyr. Her other best friend, Lizzie, repeatedly tells her that this isn’t what love looks like, that she’s letting herself get too involved in Alec’s wishes, that there are too many red flags. Zephyr does tell her mom some of the scary things about Alec, eventually, but she also keeps many important details back. We are right there, as readers, for every second of violence, control, and isolation that Alec orchestrates. It’s a well-written and truly terrifying story. Parker builds the tension throughout the whole book, making Alec more of a monster in every chapter. It’s hard to watch Zephyr not see him for who he truly is and really hard to watch her stay him with him, give him second chances, and keep his abuse a secret. This suspenseful and upsetting look at an abusive relationship will appeal to readers who like dark stories of relationships gone bad. 

 

Review copy courtesy of the publisher and Edelweiss

ISBN-13: 9781481437257

Publisher: Simon Pulse

Publication date: 03/01/2016