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Book Review: Hard Love by Ellen Wittlinger
By: Julie R., Grade 9, Pitt Meadows, BC

Too much of the fiction aimed at teens is trite and unimaginative or melodramatic. Hard Love is none of these. Instead, Ellen Wittlinger treats us to a story of unrequited love in which the characters are three-dimensional.

The protagonist is John, a high school misfit who publishes a "zine" (not a web site, but a homemade magazine which he photocopies and distributes at the local Tower Records) under the pen name, Giovanni. In the course of distributing his zine, he comes across another zine called "Escape Velocity", published by a girl named Marisol. He's fascinated by her writing and becomes obsessed with meeting her, so he hangs out at the record store when he knows she'll likely be dropping off her next issue. Thus begins a friendship between a guy who believes he is immune to emotion and a girl who describes herself as a "rich spoiled private-school gifted-and-talented writer virgin."

Everything about this novel rings true: the way the characters dress, how they feel about each other, the day-to-day effects of divorce, and especially the dialogue. Here, for instance, is a conversation John has during a weekend visit with his dad, who has bought Chinese takeout and turned it into a candlelit dinner at home with John:

"What the hell is going on?" I couldn't help it; I was too nervous to eat.

He smiled but continued to spoon rice onto his plate. "You're perceptive aren't you?"

Perceptive? I'd have to be comatose not to smell a rat here. He sighed, but it wasn't an unhappy sigh. "The fact is, I sometimes feel like I don't know you anymore, John. We spend time together, but we don't talk much."

"Whose fault is that?" I mumbled. Now that I knew he just wanted to bullshit me, I could eat. The Moo Shu looked good, even with bullshit sauce ladled over it.

As the title implies, this is not a story with a fairy-tale ending. It's about facing some difficult truths and coming to terms with emotions John fights hard to avoid. The letters he writes to his parents are heart-wrenching. If you have suffered a broken heart or just want a good read, forget the sappy romance novels--this is the book for you.

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