27 July 2012

Today we have author Jennifer Shaw Wolf with us to round out our week dedicated to standing up against abuse of any kind. While Jessica and I have taken the last week to talk about the sensitive subject with some generous authors, a week is never enough. Use these days, posts and tools to help prevent an abusive relationship. Use these words in these posts & books to continue talking. Never stop talking!

What made you decide to share a story involving relationship abuse?

This is honestly one of the hardest questions I’ve had to answer in an interview. I had to think about it for a long time because I didn’t start out to write a story about relationship abuse. I just wanted to write a story. As I was writing, it evolved into a story about relationship abuse. There were times when I had to sit back and ask myself if this was really the story I wanted to tell. I kept thinking, “Who am I to write about such a hard subject?” In retrospect, I’m glad BREAKING BEAUTIFUL came out the way it did. Allie is a fictional character, but I hope her story can help someone who is real find hope, find help, or stay safe.

What do you think teens should know in order to stay safe in a relationship?

I wanted to make sure that this was sound advice, so I turned the question over to a professional. The capable ladies at SafePlace*** women’s shelter in Olympia, Washington were happy to help. The following question was answered by their Community Services Coordinator, Michelle Dixon-Wall.

Maintaining individuality is a challenge for teens if it is against the grain of their peer group. Feeling pressured to change or conform is a regular occurrence in middle and high schools. This means that when we are teenagers, we are more susceptible to change to meet the needs of our dating relationship or our sweetie's expectations. We are more likely to stay in relationships that are not really working for us because "everyone has a BF." We are inexperienced in relationships of all kinds. Even our friendships can be abusive and manipulative (i.e., gossip, rumors, the constant breaking of trust, the many pains of not being popular.) Staying true to oneself can help keep us out of abusive relationships. To stay safe, we have to focus inward-- focus on our gut feelings and meeting our own needs and desires. Adults and parents often perceive teens as selfish but in reality they have given of themselves completely to the whims of their peer groups.

Teens need to recognize that extreme jealousy and threats of desperation or suicide are BIG warning signs and not romantic Twilight notions.

***Note: Here is the website for SafePlace of Olympia. http://www.safeplaceolympia.org/ SafePlace is the shelter that I did a donations drive for in conjunction with my book launch. They have been very helpful and supportive of me during my launch and also for this interview. The people there are truly angels.*** 

What do you hope teenagers take from reading BREAKING BEAUTIFUL?

I want teens to be aware of the horrors of abuse, so they can avoid that situation, or be able to recognize it if a friend might be in a bad relationship. Ultimately I would like any of my writing to help teens realize that no matter what situation they may be in, there is hope, and there are ways out.

There was a lot of mystery in this book as well. Why did you decide to include the fact that Allie was struggling with remembering the night of the accident?

I’ve always loved a good mystery and I think that wrapping an important message in an interesting story is a great way to learn about important issues and be more empathetic. I also felt Allie’s slowly returning memories was the right way for story to unfold. After everything that happened to her, I could see her shutting down that part of her memory to protect herself. She needed to relive her past a little at a time. She needed the chance to get stronger before she could really face what happened the night of the accident.

What was the most difficult part in writing this book?

The flashbacks of the abuse were definitely the hardest pieces to write. I wanted to make it real, but not overly dramatic. I had to show why Allie was so broken, but also why she thought she was in love in the first place. I wanted to make it into a real portrayal of abuse and of an abuse victim. I agonized a lot about whether I was overdramatizing or making light of a serious situation.

What were some startling statistics you found during your research?

The actual stories struck me more than the statistics, especially those from parents who had lost a child to some form of relationship violence. I remember coming across one on youtube, late at night, when I was looking for something else. It was a mother and father from the UK who were talking about their daughter’s murder. I could see them aching with guilt that they hadn’t realized what was happening to their daughter. (Unfortunately I can’t find the clip.)

The statistics are pretty disturbing too. Here is a good compilation that I found at loveisrespect.org (http://www.loveisrespect.org/is-this-abuse/dating-violence-statistics)

          •    Nearly 1.5 million high school students nationwide experience physical abuse from a dating partner in a single year.
          •    One in three adolescents in the U.S. is a victim of physical, sexual, emotional or verbal abuse from a dating partner, a figure that far exceeds rates of other types of youth violence.
          •    One in 10 high school students has been purposefully hit, slapped or physically hurt by a boyfriend or girlfriend.
          •    One quarter of high school girls have been victims of physical or sexual abuse.
          •    Girls and young women between the ages of 16 and 24 experience the highest rate of intimate partner violence -- almost triple the national average.

How has writing this story affected you and/or those around you?

Through writing this story I’m definitely more aware of stories of abusive relationships, whether they’re in the media or whispered about behind closed doors. I heard a story just yesterday that cut me to the core. Right after I finished BREAKING BEAUTIFUL someone close to someone who is close to me was murdered by an abusive spouse. That definitely made me step back and look at what I had written.  At that point I decided to do more research to be sure my portrayals were accurate and that I wasn’t belittling a serious issue. My heart aches for victims of abuse, and for anyone who feels helpless in the situation they’re in.

I’m also more aware of how teens and relationships are portrayed in the media. The sulking, jealous, obsessive, romantic hero you see in many books and movies is not the best role model of a healthy relationship.

And lastly, if you could, would you share what are your hopes for Allie would be if she was sitting in front of you right now?

I would want her to know that there is help available and that she isn’t alone. I would want to tell her that she has the right to move on with her life and be happy, no matter what happened in her past. I would want her to know that she is strong and beautiful and worth being treated with respect and love. (This is a message I would like to send to my daughter and all teenage girls.)

Title: Breaking Beautiful
Author: Jennifer Shaw Wolf
Publisher: Walker Children's, 354 Pages (April 24th, 2012)
Add to: Goodreads
Order here: Amazon, Barnes and Noble, The Book Depository

Synopsis: Allie lost everything the night her boyfriend, Trip, died in a horrible car accident—including her memory of the event. As their small town mourns his death, Allie is afraid to remember because doing so means delving into what she’s kept hidden for so long: the horrible reality of their abusive relationship.

When the police reopen the investigation, it casts suspicion on Allie and her best friend, Blake, especially as their budding romance raises eyebrows around town. Allie knows she must tell the truth. Can she reach deep enough to remember that night so she can finally break free? Debut writer Jennifer Shaw Wolf takes readers on an emotional ride through the murky waters of love, shame, and, ultimately, forgiveness.

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