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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