Whenever I’m asked why I write books about romance, I have an easy answer: Because books have saved me, put my life in context, and given me perspective for as long as I can remember. As far as I’m concerned, books with love stories deliver on that promise better than any other kind.
Particularly when you are first setting out on that bumpy road to love.
Books about romance are often dismissed as simple, almost simple-minded—as if the only thing they told us was that someday our prince or princess would come. They are far more rich, real—and useful – than that…at their core, every love story helps we readers believe we deserve love ourselves.
I had so many uncertain, confusing, rebellious feelings as a teenager; I thought there was no place to put them. Until I found other people (in books) who thrashed around as I did. Their stories gave me clarity about so many things: that my flaws could be shaped into my strengths, how to push myself into who I wanted to be, that I was not alone in my questions—and, most of all, what true, good love was like—and that I never needed to settle for less.
One of my favorite quotes about the value of stories in our lives comes from Roald Dahl’s ‘Matilda’:
“So Matilda’s strong young mind continued to grow, nurtured by the voices of all those authors who had sent their books out into the world like ships on the sea. These books gave Matilda a hopeful and comforting message: You are not alone.”
Boy, did I need to hear that as a teenager—I still do. A hopeful romantic from an early age, I used to sit out on the balcony outside my room at night, look up at the stars and wonder if the person I would one day love was looking at that same sky, with the same hope and longing. It was a joy to give all those wistful feelings to Samantha Reed, the heroine of ‘My Life Next Door’—and then have her wish come true when Jase Garrett climbed her balcony under the stars.
Books about love can show you every different face of it, and help you understand and define what you want and what you don’t. They subtly but firmly steered me away from my broody, mysterious bad boy phase (kudos Stella Gibbons and ‘Cold Comfort Farm’). Helped me believe that I didn’t have to be beautiful or always restrain my temper to be loved (thank you Charlotte Bronte and ‘Jane Eyre’). Every time I read one, it reinforced my hope and faith.
One of the reasons I love writing YA is that those years are so full of frank and open confusion, longing, honesty—and so very many ‘firsts’. Reading that the first heartbreak doesn’t kill you helped me tremendously, because as a teenager I had my doubts. Finding characters who made mistakes in relationships and found second chances helped me too.
My second book, ‘What I Thought Was True’ first came into being when I asked myself “If two people start out on the wrong foot in love, can they ever make it right?” Writing the story of Gwen Castle and Cass Somers showed me that it could. Whenever I get a letter that begins “I am Gwen,” I’m overwhelmed with a sense of how lucky I am to be able to help anyone see themselves in a book.
I look on now (sometimes wincing) as my own children wear the prickly clothes of adolescence, donning this one, shedding that one. As I’ve watched them learn about love, seen one of them running in joyous and giddy after her first kiss, another surviving her first break-up, yet another trying to figure out her sexual identity, I’m grateful that they, like the girl I once was, find heroes and heroines in books who have done the same and survived—triumphed.
Each book I’ve written has been for the teenagers I know and once was, the girls my daughters are, the boy I hope my son will be. It is my hope that you will find yourself in my books.
Huntley Fitzpartick is the author of swoon worthy YA contemporary romance, My Life Next Door, available now. What I Thought Was True publishes in April 2016, from Electric Monkey.
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