THE GOD OF LOVE AND ADOLESCENCE
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According to the "Booklist Editors' Choice '99" list, the novel is a "bittersweet tale" which will "enthrall teen readers. Agreeably this book is well-written based on literary merit. The dialogue is realistic, and the plot and character development permit the reader to feel empathetic toward the characters.
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However, psychologically, this book neglects to portray teen intimacy development realistically. Told from the first-person point of view of Landon Carter, the novel captures the reader with, "When I was seventeen, my life changed forever. He is not a student who excels in classwork or extra-curricular activities.
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He is content to spend his senior year hanging out with his friends at the local diner or a nearby cemetery. Landon never expects for his senior year to be so memorable. Throughout the first chapter, Landon is characterized as an average high school senior interested in girls and not school. By the second chapter, the novel loses its realism. While on a failing mission to find a date for the Homecoming dance, Landon realizes the only girl left to ask in his small school is Jamie Sullivan, the minister's daughter. Jamie, who always wears her hair in a tight bun, "almost looks like a spinster without a touch of make-up" She wears the same brown cardigan and plaid skirt every day and never leaves home without her Bible.
She was plain yet not completely unattractive. All the adults love Jamie because of her sweet and caring disposition. While all her classmate think she is irritating because of her constant reference to the Lord's plan, and she was "always so damn cheerful. Considering psychological findings that conclude teens date primarily for recreation and status achievement Paul, White 3 , Landon should not even consider dating Jamie. He even admits that if he asks her to the dance, "My friends would roast me alive" Dating Jamie, even just for one night, would certainly not improve his status with his friends nor would it be an enjoyable experience.
To add to their differences, Minister Sullivan and Landon's father have had a long-standing family feud with one another concerning Landon's grandfather's business decisions. Nevertheless, Landon, who is so desperate for a date, asks Jamie anyway. While at the dance, Landon's friends avoid him and Jamie rattles on about the Lord's plan for everyone.
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Feeling as if he has already "served his penance" 67 , Landon does not talk to Jamie much after the dance. Although he was not miserable at the dance, he regrets asking Jamie because his friends continue to ridicule him. Two weeks following the dance, Jamie approaches Landon with a request to star in the Christmas play with her. Given that Landon finds drama class boring and has no obligation to help Jamie, it should be unlikely that he agrees. Nonetheless, Landon agrees, and no real explanation is given. Throughout the many weeks of play rehearsal, Landon remains polite to Jamie yet laughs at her when with his friends.
Just days before opening night, he becomes so aggravated with her; he demands that she stop acting like they are friends.
It is unclear where, or why, Landon falls in love with Jamie. Somewhere between opening night and collecting Christmas money for the orphans that she visits, Landon begins to admit to himself that he has feelings for her. Still, he keeps his love and their relationship from his friends. Before their love has an opportunity to progress beyond a casual romance, Jamie discloses to Landon that she is dying of leukemia. Landon is by her side throughout the struggle, and in a predictable, yet unrealistic, ending marries her before she dies.
The final chapter returns the reader to , where Landon, now 57, shares that he has never removed the wedding ring and still loves her. From the beginning their relationship is unrealistic. Their opposite lifestyles, Landon's unsupportive friends, and Jamie's father's hatred of the Carters, should prevent Landon from even asking Jamie to the dance. The lack of realism is carried throughout the novel; therefore, it is difficult to categorize their relationship into White's levels of intimacy because it is so unrealistic.
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Landon and Jamie's relationship is inconvenient to Landon both when his friends ridicule him and when she is dying. Therefore, it cannot be concluded that their relationship is at the self-focused level. This level is the foundation for all relationships 3. If this level is not achieved, which it does not appear to be, then the relationship should not even exist.
The next level of intimacy is role-focused which requires that the relationship is socially acceptable, respecting and caring 3. The couple seems to leap to this stage rather abruptly, bypassing the self-focused level, when learning of Jamie's disease. This level is not completely unrealistic in teenagers, but such an abrupt jump into emotional intimacy is unlikely 4.
A few months is generally not sufficient time to develop the trust, commitment and empathy needed marriage. The subject of marriage raises another issue. Why did Landon marry a dying girl? This decision seems very selfless; however, he tells Jamie that he is doing it for himself, not her. Psychologically teenagers are egocentric, which prevents them from making decisions that do not directly benefit them. The benefits Landon may experience from marrying Jamie are limited to the positive feeling he would get from enabling her to fulfill her dream. Given that single benefit, one would assume that he would eventually love again, yet he never does.
Again the realism of the plot is lost. Taking into account the unrealistic portrayal of intimacy development, a young reader could get an inaccurate impression of high school love. Teen love is typically short-lived because of undeveloped interpersonal and social skills Shaughnessy, Shakesby 4. By suggesting that teen love can withstand ridicule and even death is encouraging teens to believe that their high school relationships will have a lifelong impact on who they are and who they will become. High school relationships do encourage identity development 3 , but because they are generally formed to improve status or have a good time they have much less of an impact than suggested in this novel.
However, in Ellen Wittlinger's novel Hard Love , identity development is the only positive result of a one-sided love. Recommended by the ALA's "Booklist" magazine, this novel handles teen love brutally and honestly. Prom is not a fairytale fantasy, and the protagonist, John Galardi, does not share candlelit dinners and fireworks with his true love, Marisol Guzman.
Like so many teen romances, this love is one-sided and quite painful. John considers himself to be "immune to emotions" 2. Not interested in girls, yet not homosexual, he calls himself a "neuter" A junior in a suburban high school, he is lonely and annoyed by other teen's obsessions with love.
He thinks, "I can't even imagine being in love with somebody, and letting her touch me, and tell me things I wouldn't know whether to believe" The he meets the writer of his favorite zine, Marisol, the self-proclaimed "Puerto Rican Cuban Yankee, Cambridge, Massachusetts, rich spoiled lesbian private-school gifted-and-talented writer virgin looking for love" 9. They share a common interest in zine writing, and their relationship escalates from acquaintances to best friends.
John eventually admits to himself that he has feelings for Marisol. He admits, "It his feelings was the reason I was no longer comatose after an entire life of sleepwalking. It seemed that, all of a sudden, Marisol was necessary to my existence" In a mistake that nearly costs him her friendship, he misinterprets her subtle touches for similar affection and attempts to kiss her.
She does see their relationship as something special not love, but a deep connection between two people who are largely misunderstood by those around them. Although Marisol makes her feelings clear, John realizes that he cannot change his feelings With an egocentric attitude typical in adolescents, he continues to believe that Marisol will change her mind. Her feelings never change. Like so many teens, John feels lost without her, he is clearly disappointed when he remembers the impact she has made on his life.
He decides his life is meaningless without her, "When I look back at my life before Marisol, it seems blank. Whited out. What had I done then? Who had I been? Who could I be now, without her? What would I do? He is nothing without her. By the end of the novel, John has not fully accepted Marisol's absence, but he is not ready to give up.
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He is ready to move on slowly. To achieve realism, Wittlinger perfectly integrates pieces of John's and Marisol's writing to enable the reader to enter the mind of both characters without straying from the firstperson narration. The poems and essays provide a means of communication between characters as well as insight into their feelings. In order to develop a realistic view of the relationship, both characters' thoughts are needed. Without the addition of the writing, knowing Marisol's feelings about her sexuality would be impossible. John's feelings are expressed mainly through his thoughts that are so typical of a teen who does not understand himself let alone the world around him.
He remarks on the absurdity of teen love, prom, his mother's second marriage, and his promiscuous father. In addition to realistic thoughts, the relationship, although never progressing beyond platonic, portrays teen relationships accurately from a psychological perspective. The relationship was extremely self-focused. John's interests cause him to ignore Marisol's feelings. He wants her to be his girlfriend, so when they attend the Prom he pretends that she is. He wants to kiss her, so, not considering her feelings, he attempts to kiss her.
He is feeling everything necessary to make a commitment to her, so her assumes she feels the same. He is unable to understand her perspective, which would be essential in attaining intimacy in their relationship.
The couple does achieve moderate behavioral intimacy that is common in young adult relationships. They trust one another enough to share personal thoughts. They are each committed to their friendship. They both enjoy the same recreational activities, and they are able to assist one another in developing a deeper sense of identity. Ideally, their relationship would have progressed into a deeper intimate relationship, if not for Marisol's sexual orientation. This novel provides a useful message for teens through its well-written text, an engaging plot, and realistic expectations for love.
Love is not fireworks and roses; it is difficult and hurtful at times. But, the reader is also encouraged to accept that, although it may take time, life will go on without that love.