Sense Shaming in YA: How Could She Let that Happen? a guest post by and interview with S.M. Parker
“How could she let that happen?” is a question asked far too often when a girl is the victim of dating violence or domestic abuse. It implies the abuse was her fault. That she was not smart enough to distance herself from the abuse. It implies that walking away from abuse is simple. And it assumes that abuse is easy to spot.
Just as “Slut Shaming” degrades a girl for embracing or exploring her sexuality, I would propose that “Sense Shaming” degrades a girl for not having the sense—the intelligence or agency—to avoid a manipulative, abusive relationship. But the intricacies of an abusive relationship are typically subtle and insidious in their development. My YA debut THE GIRL WHO FELL (reviewed here on Teen Librarian Toolbox) explores how this type of manipulation and isolation can happen to anyone. Smart girls. Driven Girls. Focused Girls. Any girl.
In THE GIRL WHO FELL, our main character, Zephyr Doyle, experiences her sexual awakening. She finds love in a boy that appears to be kind and caring and trusting. He listens to her words, understands her fears and accepts her insecurities without judgement. The boy builds a storm of intoxicating trust made of shared secrets, deep kisses and unwavering support. But the boy wants more. He wants to control Zephyr. Keep her close. Own her.
Gradually, Zephyr stops focusing on her friends, sports, and academics. She wants to give her boy what he wants because she is in love. Some say that reading THE GIRL WHO FELL is like watching a friend navigate an unhealthy relationship and you want to scream “NO!” over and over again. It is so easy for the reader to see how the relationship is flawed, but Zephyr is blinded to the toxicity. Not because she is stupid. Not because she has no sense. But because she is being manipulated by a person who knows how to play upon her deepest insecurities.
This mirrors reality. According to Love Is Respect, “one in three teens in the U.S. will experience physical, sexual or emotional abuse by someone they are in a relationship with before they become adults.” Most of these girls will not realize they are in an abusive relationship right away, while their friends and family may see it all too clearly. Victimized girls will need the support and strength of friends to gain their freedom from the unhealthy relationship. Each of these girls deserve not to be judged, shamed or ridiculed because a boy thought love was gaining control over her every move, her every ambition.
THE GIRL WHO FELL is a novel that embraces the power of one’s voice and the strength it takes to reclaim your voice. It is, at its core, a hopeful book. It explores a tough subject matter that won’t be for everyone, though I hope it helps readers to see that manipulation can happen to anyone. THE GIRL WHO FELL illustrates how abuse is never the victim’s fault. That victims are not alone. That love should never hurt. And that blaming the victim is not a solution.
Amanda’s interview with Shannon
Amanda: What inspired examining an abusive relationship in The Girl Who Fell?
Shannon: There are so many books about the magic of first love. How it is tempting and luscious and beautiful. But it is also so dangerous. You ask yourself: Can I trust this person with my heart? My body? My dreams? And there are plenty of books that scream YES to these questions. They are the books of Happily Ever After.
I wanted to write a story that explored the dangers of first love. What happens when you can’t trust the person you love? What happens when love turns toxic? And how does a strong and determined girl fall for a charming boy who is—at his core—awful and damaged (and damaging)?
I wanted to write this story because I know it is a reality for countless teens and I don’t think it is talked about enough.
While writing THE GIRL WHO FELL, I wanted readers to fall for Alec’s manipulation alongside Zephyr and maybe begin to understand how this type of “fall” can happen, even to the smartest, most driven teenage girl. How falling doesn’t mean you are weak. And that you shouldn’t feel shame.
I wanted to write a book that tells girls that they always, ALWAYS have the right to regain their voice.
Amanda: What research did you have to do? What did you learn from researching and writing this story?
Shannon: My research for THE GIRL WHO FELL was mostly anecdotal. I am fortunate that I get to spend my days working with teens in an alternative education program. Much of that time is spent listening. Listening to the stories of young adults made one rise in me. And I am forever grateful for organization like LoveIsRespect that provide statistics, tools, and hope.
Amanda: Did you make major changes to the story or the characters from when you conceived of the idea to its final draft?
Shannon: Yes. In fact, I made major changes to the book after it sold to Simon & Schuster. I am fortunate to have a brilliant editor in Nicole Ellul and she helped me to see that the relationship between Zephyr and Alec had to build more slowly, so the reader would “fall” alongside Zephyr and understand her choices. But Alec never changed much in revisions; the DNA of his character—and the arc of manipulation—remained the same throughout revisions.
Amanda: For those of us raising boys, what important things can we be doing so they don’t grow up to be monsters like Alec?
Shannon: Oh, that is a big question! I’m also a mom to boys and wouldn’t want to witness either son to become a manipulator, or fall victim to manipulation. I try to teach my sons to practice indiscriminate kindness. I’m a firm believer that kindness is contagious, and the world could use a whole lot more of it. But also, teaching respect is key. Not only the respect to treat other humans as their equals, but to not judge someone who makes different choices than they would. In my professional life and personal life, I listen a lot. I hope my sons will understand the power of listening to—and really hearing—other people’s stories. I hope they will grow up to be men that treat each unique human experience with kindness and respect.
Thank you so much for having me on TLT today, Amanda! I’ve so enjoyed speaking with you about THE GIRL WHO FELL and the issues it explores.
Meet Shannon Parker
Shannon M. Parker lives on the coast of Maine with her husband and sons. As a young adult, she traveled dozens of countries and still has a few dozen more to go. She spends her days working in education and holds degrees from three New England universities. She can usually be found rescuing dogs, chickens, old houses and wooden boats. Shannon has a weakness for chocolate chip cookies and ridiculous laughter—ideally, at the same time. The Girl Who Fell is her first novel. Find her at www.shannonmparker.com
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About Amanda MacGregor
Amanda MacGregor works in an elementary library, loves dogs, and can be found on Twitter @CiteSomething.
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