Discussion Guide: Hard Love
About the book:
John’s life is an emotional shipwreck. His mom never touches him since his parents divorced and his dad would rather be anywhere than spending weekends with his son. John takes comfort in writing his zine and reading other zines like Escape Velocity by Marisol, a self-proclaimed “Puerto Rican Cuban Yankee Lesbian.” As their friendship develops, John’s protective shell cracks and he allows himself to admit his feelings about his parents and eventually for Marisol.
About the guide:
This guide includes discussion questions and projects appropriate for book clubs, literature circles, and classroom discussions. It is intended to provoke thought and insight into the themes of this novel which include family expectations, self-identity, escape, relationships, friendship, love and truth.
How did you become interested in zines? How have they changed since the publication of the novel?
My daughter's friend, Colette, had a zine when she was 15 (and still puts out issues sporatically now, even though she's almost 10 years older!) As soon as I saw her issues I was intrigued with this method of putting your writing (and your feelings) out into the world. It was a phenomenon that was new to me, but Colette put me in touch with other zine writers too and I wrote to them to see what had driven them to produce their zines. It seemed like a natural fit for a YA novel. There are still many paper zines around today--if you search the Net you'll find lots of sources for them. Factsheet 5 is no longer available, and many zines are now e-zines, but the zine movement is still very alive.
What inspired John and Marisol’s story?
I had always wanted to write a story in which a gay or lesbian teen character was already out of the closet and comfortable with his or her sexuality. Up until that point, most books for YAs with gay protagonists were about their coming out. I wanted to write the NEXT chapter. Both Marisol and John sprang full-blown into my imagination and their chemistry was great. Because of who Marisol is, the story's ending is inevitable, to me, yet many readers are upset by it. Which isn't a bad thing either.
John was really transformed by his friendship with Marisol. Do you think this influence of friends is typical of teen relationships?
I think it's very common for a friend with a strong personality to affect a teenager--for better or for worse. At this age, kids are much closer to their friends than to their parents, and they're very open to new experiences. Of course they'll be influenced by friends.
Do you ever find yourself still thinking about the characters you created? Do you know what happens to them after the close of the novel?
I do sometimes think about them, but I don't usually create a life for them that lasts much past the end of the book. If I did, I suppose I'd write a sequel. And though I've always been nervous about writing sequels, fearing the second book wouldn't live up the reader's hopes for it, Hard Love is one book I have considered doing a sequel for. Maybe next time we'll be in Marisol's head.
Write the next zine installment for either John or Marisol.
This guide was created by Tracie Vaughn Zimmer, a reading specialist and author Sketches from a Spy Tree from Clarion. Visit her website to find other guides to YA literature.
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