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YA A to Z: Gaslighting, a guest post by author Anna Hecker

Today as part of the YA A to Z series, TLT is honored to have author Anna Hecker here discussing with us the topic of gaslighting.


TRIGGER WARNING: This article discusses emotional, physical, and sexual abuse, including rape.

In the 1944 classic film Gaslight, a handsome pianist convinces his young wife to move back to the London townhouse she abandoned after her aunt was murdered there. There, he embarks on a systematic campaign to drive her insane.

Although she seems perfectly healthy he rarely lets her leave the house or have visitors, claiming her fragile health can’t handle it. When he calls her forgetful she protests, but then she begins “losing” small objects—and starts to feel like she’s losing her mind.

Slowly, her husband’s tactics begin to work. She questions her own judgment. She thinks she’s seeing and hearing things. In her isolated state, believing she can’t trust her own instincts, she increasingly comes to see her husband as the one pillar of sanity in her crumbling world.

It’s from this famous film that we derive the term “gaslighting.” In its simplest form, it means manipulating the truth to make someone feel like they’re going crazy. It’s a favorite tactic of sociopaths, cult leaders, and politicians; in an era of “fake news” and “alternative facts,” who doesn’t feel like they’re being systematically driven crazy sometimes?

How to Know If You’re a Victim of Gaslighting | Psychology Today

Popular gaslighting tactics include:

  • Blatant lying, even in the face of evidence. (“I didn’t have my arm around that girl. That Instagram must have been Photoshopped.”)
  • Denying or contradicting things they’ve said or done. (“I never said I’d take you out for your birthday.”)
  • Twisting their victim’s words to have unintended meanings. (“You said you’d support me no matter what, but now you won’t even loan me twenty bucks?”)
  • Claiming their victim is unstable, over-sensitive, or mentally ill. (“You don’t believe me? You have serious trust issues.”)
  • Blaming their victim for their own behavior (“If you weren’t so controlling I wouldn’t have to sneak around.”)
  • Withholding information. (“I can’t even talk about this when you’re being so irrational.”)
  • Enlisting others to help destabilize their victim. (“My friends all think you’re crazy, too.”)

Of particular relevance to teen readers, gaslighting is common within abusive relationships. According to the National Domestic Violence Hotline, 1 in 3 college women have been in an abusive dating relationship, and 1 in 10 high school students has experienced physical violence from a dating partner in the past year. While gaslighting and physical or emotional abuse don’t always go hand-in-hand, they can be a key part of why teens choose to stay in abusive relationships. When they’re told often enough that they’re over-reacting, that they deserve to be mistreated, or simply that what happened didn’t really happen, they begin to question their sanity. In a world where facts aren’t facts and reality isn’t reality, they turn to their abusive partner for stability—just like Ingrid Bergman’s character in Gaslight.

Rookie » Let’s Talk About Gaslighting

It’s important for teens experiencing gaslighting to know they aren’t alone…and they aren’t crazy. Fortunately, a new crop of teen and middle-grade books is confronting gaslighting in unique and brave new ways=. Here are a few to add to your shelves:


ALWAYS FOREVER MAYBE  by Anica Mrose Rissi

What it is: A YA contemporary about a storybook romance gone wrong

Who it can help: Young people in manipulative, abusive relationships

This chilling tale of a storybook romance gone wrong rings all too true because of the slow, insidious way in which the gaslighting takes place. When Betts meets older, alluring Aiden, it’s love at first sight. But things quickly go south. He makes her question her own perceptions and memories and worries out loud that she’ll hurt him…even as he’s hurting her more every day.

This story will ring true for anyone who’s been in an abusive relationship. It’s a perfect way to start a conversation, and the list of resources at the end will hopefully help those in dangerous situations take steps toward finding a way out.



What it is: A YA contemporary about love, music, friendship, and finding your beat

Who it can help: People who rely on their romantic relationship for more than love

In my debut novel, WHEN THE BEAT DROPS, 17-year-old Mira’s seemingly wonderful new boyfriend gaslights her into ignoring some of his less-than-savory activities. Because he’s also her manager, her career as a DJ is tied up their relationship—an advantage he deliberately presses.

All too frequently, victims of domestic abuse have more at stake than just their relationship. They may depend on their partner for social status, transportation, tutoring, financial help, or even (ironically) as a way to escape an abusive home life. Realistically, those relying on their relationship for outside needs may need help finding a new way to meet those needs before they can be persuaded to leave.

blood water paint


What it is: Historical YA fiction based on the true story of the iconic painter, Artemisia Gentileschi

Who it can help: Teens experiencing gaslighting or abuse from an authority figure

At seventeen, Artemisia is one of Rome’s most talented painters. But when her painting teacher rapes her, everything turns upside down. As he tries to convince her it was consensual, she finds herself questioning everything about her world—and a woman’s place in it. Told primarily in verse, this powerful tale of rape and redemption is the perfect jumping-off point for discussions about sexual and emotional abuse by authority figures. The verse format may also appeal to reluctant readers.


BURRO HILLS By Julia Lynn Rubin

What it is: Gritty LGBTQ YA contemporary about a teen discovering his homosexuality in a dead-end town

Who it can help: Teens experiencing gaslighting and bullying by friends

Jack Burns is a resident—though oftentimes he feels like an inmate—of desert town of Burro Hills. Growing up surrounded by the broken dreams of his parents, Jack wonders if he will ever just get out. Get out of dealing drugs. Get out of poverty. Get away from the suffocating masculinity in high school boys. And get out of his own head.

All that changes when Connor comes along, captivating Jack and challenging him to find escape in new ways. But Jack’s old friends don’t want to let him go so easily: and they’re willing to lie, threaten, and manipulate to keep the status quo. A double-whammy for teens exploring their sexuality or feeling gaslit by friends, this is a stark look at toxic masculinity and the damage it can cause.



What it is: A MG fantasy in which a young girl travels to a magical land to save her family

Who it can help: Middle-grade readers who may be experiencing gaslighting but are unable to articulate it

The gaslighting in this middle-grade fantasy is unique because it’s being perpetrated by… a house?! When Cecelia Dahl’s little brother, Celadon, dies tragically, his soul goes where all souls go: The Land of Yesterday. When Cecelia’s mother leaves to go after her ghost-brother, Cecelia’s house, which has a soul, uses guilt, manipulation, and fear to force Cecelia into an ultimatum: embark on a journey to the deadly Land of Yesterday to bring back her mother, or have the house hurt Cecelia and her family even more than she could imagine.

While it’s painful to think of middle schoolers as victims of gaslighting and emotional abuse, it’s also an unfortunate reality. This whimsical novel can help articulate the meaning of gaslighting to young readers.



What it is: A MG contemporary exploring issues of class, gun control, and emotional abuse

Who it can help: Middle-grade readers who may be experiencing gaslighting or abuse by an authority figure

Seventh-grader Zoey doesn’t want to join the debate club. She just wants to stay under the radar: taking care of her younger siblings while her mom works, hanging out with her friend Fuschia, avoiding the rich kids in her school, and doing what it takes to stay in her mother’s boyfriend’s good graces so they can keep living in his nice, clean trailer.

But joining the debate club forces her to confront the truth about Fuschia’s situation, her mom’s relationship, and her own place in the world. A poignant and relatable read for middle graders who are afraid of speaking out for fear of not fitting in, it explores gaslighting by authority figures in a fresh (and, frankly, heartbreaking) way.

About Anna Hecker

Anna_Hecker_HeadshotΓÇöSmall copy

Anna Hecker grew up at the dead end of a dirt road in Vermont. She holds an MFA from The New School and spent a decade writing ad copy and chasing beats before returning to fiction, her first love. She lives in Brooklyn with her husband, son, and fluffy bundle of glamour, Cat Benatar.

Author Links:

Preorder: Indiebound, Amazon, Barnes & Noble

Website: annahecker.com

Instagram: https://www.instagram.com/heckerbooks/

Twitter: https://twitter.com/HeckerBooks

Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/HeckerBooks

YA A to Z: Designer Drugs, a guest post by author Anna Hecker

Today for YA A to Z we’re discussing Designer Drugs with author Anna Hecker


If you frequent raves or EDM festivals, you might sometimes see a neon-yellow table covered in candy, condoms, earplugs, and bright postcards. Get closer, and you’ll notice the postcards each name a drug, from alcohol and nicotine to MDMA and LSD. Flip them over to find simple, unbiased information: effects, side effects, and contraindications.

At this point, a volunteer might ask if you have any questions. If you’d like to take some postcards to share with your friends. If you want complimentary earplugs, along with a brochure on hearing loss. Sometimes, they may be able to perform onsite pill testing: a series of chemical reagents that can help determine whether a square of blotter paper really contains LSD, or a capsule of “molly” is a synthetic cathinone or pure MDMA. Given the proliferation of adulterated substances masquerading as “molly”, these tests can save someone’s night…or someone’s life.

Popular Drugs: Most Common & Emerging Drugs Among Teens

This is DanceSafe, a non-profit dedicated to promoting health and safety in the nightlife and electronic music communities. Consider them the librarians of the rave scene—gatekeepers of information, with the goal of disseminating it widely (on the ground, directly to its target audience) so young people can make safe and educated choices.

I’d been seeing DanceSafe around since I started going to raves in the late 90s, and was doing some volunteer work with them when I conceived the idea for my debut YA contemporary novel, WHEN THE BEAT DROPS. To say the organization influenced my decision to write this book is an understatement. I was inspired by the way DanceSafe tackles issues within the dance music community (from designer drugs to consent) without flinching or fear mongering. I wanted my book to do that, too.


hecker1DanceSafe in action (I’m second from the left)


“Designer drug” is a blanket term used to describe any psychoactive chemical created in a lab with the intention of getting people high. It gained popularity alongside the rise of MDMA (short for 3,4-methylenedioxy-methamphetamine, known as Ecstasy to Gen-X’ers and Molly to Millennials) in the mid-1980s, and has since been used to describe any number of synthetic opioids, psychedelics, amphetamines, and empathogens. Because MDMA and the rave scene are inextricably intertwined, designer drugs that claim to be pure MDMA are arguably the greatest danger to the electronic music community today.

YA Drug & Substance Abuse Novels (56 books) – Goodreads
8 YA Reads to Spark Authentic Discussions About Drugs and Alcohol

Taken alone, pure MDMA is relatively safe. In 2017, the FDA granted it Breakthrough Therapy Status for use in the treatment of Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD). It has since entered large-scale, Phase 3 clinical trials, with the goal of being on the market for clinical use by 2021. In Phase 2 trails, 61% of users no longer qualified for PTSD after just three sessions of MDMA-assisted psychotherapy. All trial participants had been previously diagnosed with “chronic, treatment-resistant PTSD,” and had suffered for an average of 17.8 years. By increasing feelings of trust and empathy, MDMA allows users to confront traumatic events in their past without the crushing panic and fear that usually accompanies these memories.

Infographics on Drug Use and Effects | NIDA for Teens

It’s no surprise that young people would be attracted to a drug that fosters trust and empathy while reducing fear. Adolescence can be brutally lonely: you feel like you’re the only freak out there and nobody will ever get you, yet have an oppressive, all-consuming need to fit in. The rave scene offers a potent antidote to these feelings: pop a pill, shed your fear, and find your tribe on the dance floor. For many young people, this is the community they’ve spent their whole life searching for. It certainly was for me.

The problem arises when underground labs and black-market dealers control the flow of unregulated substances to young people who are hungry for connection and may not have all the facts. MDMA is difficult and expensive to produce, so labs create synthetic analogues that may have a similar molecular structure but can produce wildly different effects. Dealers, in an effort to maximize profit, then cut it even further, with more or less anything they can find. End users think they’re taking pure MDMA. In reality, they could be ingesting anything from baby aspirin to bath salts.


In WHEN THE BEAT DROPS I wanted to explore the many sides of rave culture: the connection and bliss as well as the discomfort and danger. My protagonist, 17-year-old Mira, is a diehard jazz fan who dreams of attending a music conservatory for trumpet and composition. But when her older sister Britt comes home from college with a new look, new friends, and a new passion for warehouse parties, Mira sees an opportunity to reconnect. To her surprise, she finds herself falling in love with dance music, DJing…and Derek, a gorgeous older promoter who thinks he can make her a star.

But the electronic music community isn’t all sun-soaked festivals and kandi necklaces. Mira may be all about the music, but Britt increasingly turns to club drugs as an escape from her rage and grief. Instead of confronting her emotions, she’s getting high—and she’s not exactly paying attention to what she’s taking, or how much.

12 Signs of Teen Drug Abuse Infographic | Alcohol Awareness Month

As Mira struggles to forge her own place in this world, she also has to confront her sister’s drug use, and come to terms with the fact that not everyone is as well-intentioned as they seem.

WHEN THE BEAT DROPS is not, first and foremost, a “drug book”. It’s about family and friends, falling in love and finding your beat. But it’s impossible to write about the culture of electronic music without acknowledging the very real role that drugs play. My hope is that by addressing designer drugs within the context of a broader story, and showing the nuanced ways they both shape and destroy this scene, I can continue some of the great work of informing, educating, and, yes, even entertaining that DanceSafe has begun.


About Anna Hecker

Anna Hecker grew up at the end of a dead-end road in a rural town in Vermont, and moved to New York City as soon as she possibly could. She holds an MFA in fiction writing from The New School, spent ten years writing for ad agencies and digital publishers, and still dabbles in copywriting and sponsored content. When she’s not reading or writing she enjoys tooling around Brooklyn with her husband and son, snuggling with her fluffy bundle of glamor, Cat Benatar, or blasting soulful house and dancing around her living room. She is represented by Eric Smith at P.S. Literary.

Author Links:

Preorder: https://www.indiebound.org/book/9781510733336

Website: annahecker.com

Instagram: https://www.instagram.com/heckerbooks/

Twitter: https://twitter.com/AnnaTheHecker

Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/AnnaHeckerAuthor