I think everyone wants to believe that the heart once broken can be healed again. As vulnerable as we are to pain, we have to believe that otherwise what is the point in trying again. Why would we bother looking for love once we’ve lost it, or been wounded/broken by someone who was supposed to love us?
I believe as readers and writers we gravitate towards this theme in books because there is something life-affirming about knowing there is something or someone waiting for us at the end of heartbreak. Like a modern fairytale, mending the broken heart is a trope that has resonance in the real world.
In my recent release, DEAR CASSIE, Cassie goes through something pretty horrific at the hands of a boyfriend and it has closed her off from being able to trust anyone. One of the ways she learns to trust again is by learning to love again. I think this is key, learning to love again, not having someone love her. I wrote it that way purposely because I wanted it to be clear that her falling in love with someone new was a choice she was making.
Here's the thing, I've gotten some reviews, some not all, that say that she should have been able to get over her trauma without help from a boy. I believe this statement and I agree with it and so it made me wonder, how do you write a story like this and give your broken female the appearance of strength if she ends up with the boy? Would Cassie choosing to be alone have made her seem stronger? Is that even realistic?
As a teen who had my own traumatic experience at the hands of an ex-boyfriend, very different from Cassie's but just as life-altering, I personally chose instead to be with everyone. That was what being raped by my ex-boyfriend did to me, it made me crave companionship and sex from anywhere I could get it. I was broken like Cassie, but dealt with it in the complete opposite way. I wondered if I had written her this way, if some readers would have had the same complaint.
Cassie for the first 75% of the book pushes everyone including girls and women away. It isn’t just about keeping boys out or letting boys in. She deals with her trauma by closing herself off, by putting up walls. Her choosing to let someone in isn't about him being a boy. It isn't about being rescued. It's about her starting to believe she deserves to be loved, to let people in again, boy or girl. That was my intention anyway.
I suppose in some ways my acting out with boys was the same as Cassie’s walls. I was letting them in, but only sexually, emotionally my barricades were up. By being with them in a physical way, by making it my choice I suppose I was able to take any power away from them. I was able to decide not to be hurt.
That was what Cassie was doing too and her opening up to someone emotionally was all about illustrating her growth. It was not about being swept off her feet, or saved by some guy. At least that was not what I intended when I wrote it.
I'm not sure what reaction is more authentic? Stronger? I'm not sure it matters. What does matter, or did matter to me was showing that someone can get past heartbreak, past a trauma and be able to let people in again. Whether that's strong or weak, I don't know. I just think it's human.
Lisa Burstein is a tea seller by day and a writer by night. She received her MFA in Creative Writing from the Inland Northwest Center for Writers at Eastern Washington University. She is the author of Pretty Amy, The Next Forever and Dear Cassie. As well as a contributor to the upcoming essay collection, Break These Rules: 35 YA Authors On Speaking Up, Standing Out, and Being Yourself. She lives in Portland, Oregon with her very patient husband, a neurotic dog and two cats.
What if the last place you should fall in love is the first place that you do?
You’d think getting sent to Turning Pines Wilderness Camp for a month-long rehabilitation “retreat” and being forced to re-live it in this journal would be the worst thing that’s ever happened to me.
You’d be wrong.
There’s the reason I was sent to Turning Pines in the first place: I got arrested. On prom night. With my two best friends, who I haven’t talked to since and probably never will again. And then there’s the real reason I was sent here. The thing I can’t talk about with the guy I can’t even think about.
What if the moment you’ve closed yourself off is the moment you start to break open?
But there’s this guy here. Ben. And the more I swear he won’t—he can’t—the deeper under my skin he’s getting. After the thing that happened, I promised I’d never fall for another boy’s lies.
And yet I can’t help but wonder…what if?