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Hard Love

Hard Love

4.5 134
by Ellen Wittlinger

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Since his parents' divorce, John's mother hasn't touched him, her new fiancé wants them to move away, and his father would rather be anywhere than at Friday night dinner with his son. It's no wonder John writes articles like "Interview with the Stepfather" and "Memoirs from Hell." The only release he finds is in homemade zines like the amazing Escape


Since his parents' divorce, John's mother hasn't touched him, her new fiancé wants them to move away, and his father would rather be anywhere than at Friday night dinner with his son. It's no wonder John writes articles like "Interview with the Stepfather" and "Memoirs from Hell." The only release he finds is in homemade zines like the amazing Escape Velocity by Marisol, a self-proclaimed "Puerto Rican Cuban Yankee Lesbian." Haning around the Boston Tower Records for the new issue of Escape Velocity, John meets Marisol and a hard love is born.
While at first their friendship is based on zines, dysfuntional families, and dreams of escape, soon both John and Marisol begin to shed their protective shells. Unfortunately, John mistakes this growing intimacy for love, and a disastrous date to his junior prom leaves that friendship in ruins. Desperately hoping to fix things, John convinces Marisol to come with him to a zine conference on Cape Cod. On the sandy beaches by the Bluefish Wharf Inn, John realizes just how hard love can be.
With keen insight into teenage life, Ellen Wittlinger delivers a story of adolescence that is fierce and funny — and ultimately transforming — even as it explores the pain of growing up.

Editorial Reviews

From the Publisher
Publishers Weekly The awkwardness of awakening sexuality, a growing preoccupation with identity, and crossing the line from friendship to more are all themes here with which teens will readily identify.

Booklist Even minor characters on the edges of the story are wonderfully crafted and convincing. Teenagers should be prepared to laugh, wince, rage, weep, and heave at least one deep sigh when they read this meaningful story. Highly recommended for high school readers.

School Library Journal This is a smart addition to YA collections and a good recommendation to readers who may be feeling outside the norm.

Kirkus Reviews (Wittlinger's) bittersweet portrait of an adolescent writer caught up in a quixotic first love will snare susceptible readers.

VOYA Remembering that adolescence is a trying time filled with questions and feelings, Hard Love is an intriguing and absorbing novel.

John Green
"Ellen Wittlinger's Hard Love was one of the books that inspired me to write young adult novels."
The Barnes & Noble Review
Hard love? Frankly, John hasn't known any love in a long time. Ever since his parents were divorced, his mother hasn't touched him. To be more specific, his mother hasn't even accidentally grazed him with her hand when they both reach into the refrigerator at the same time. Strange? You bet, and it's been going on for years. His father isn't any better, effectively having checked out of John's life, too. John heads over to his dad's house in Boston every weekend, but his father leaves on dates long before the cheese on the pizza begins to coagulate.

At school, John obscures his pain with aloof sarcasm. He hangs out with his pal Brian, but the two rarely move beyond wisecracks. John avoids conversation and connection. As long as he and Brian hang out, at least it looks as though each of them has a friend. It's a silent agreement between them — a pretend friendship. It's the best one John has. It's the only one, too.

Ellen Wittlinger's challenging new novel,Hard Love, introduces us to this lonely teenager. He hides behind his wit. He wears his emotional scars like an invisible Mohawk or tattoo — with style, with the oblivious purposefulness for which teens are famous. You know John. You know that beneath that edge a smoldering heart lurks, ready to be found. Yet Wittlinger doesn't make it easy for anyone — including her readers — to find this wounded heart. She has bigger, more important plans for this complicated character. Her patience and honesty as a writer are gifts to teens everywhere.

John's world turns upside-down when he comes across a sassyzinecalled Escape Velocity, a self-published magazine by a Boston teen named Marisol. John is startled but intrigued by her honesty and self-awareness. In print, out there for anyone to read, she calls herself a "lesbian private-school gifted-and-talented writer virgin looking for love." How on earth could a teenager know herself well enough to say all that? And where does she get the guts to say it in print?

Inspired, John decides to create his own zine, not for self-exploration but more in the hopes of creating something for Marisol to read. After several fumbles, he connects with Marisol, who is angry, intense, and emotional in ways that John never imagined anyone could be.

Here's where the magic starts. Rob Thomas, celebrated author of Rats Saw God and other popular novels for teens, calls Hard Love "hip...compelling...gutsy," and you'll see why as this unusual friendship unfolds. Maybe John has nothing to lose. Maybe he is so lonely that even another rejection wouldn't make his life any worse than it is. Despite his shyness, he pursues Marisol and tries to break through her protective shell.

It works, surprising them both. Marisol is won over by John's earnestness and by his sexual ambiguity. She believes him when he says he's not trying to hit on her. He just wants to talk about writing, about zines. The two are a strange pair, and their friendship confuses everyone — including themselves. They talk about writing, honesty, their dysfunctional families, and their feelings.

Author Ellen Wittlinger sublimely crafts John's awakening. Marisol challenges him. She stirs up feelings of longing and hopes for closeness that he buried inside himself long ago. When John begins to confuse his friendship with Marisol with romantic love, it's unclear whether he's headed for a fall or one of the most exciting journeys of his life. Frankly, it also is unclear if Marisol, a self-described lesbian, may be falling in love with John, too.

Yes, this is a love story, but it's a hard one. Hard Love explores the sort of love that transforms us, makes us whole, and leads us into the wilderness of our own hearts. It's about the kind of love that supports us and makes us grow, but also rips us to shreds. Deep friendship is a difficult thing to find and to nurture. Wittlinger never simplifies John and Marisol's experience of friendship. She doesn't give the reader easy answers either. Provocative and refreshing, Hard Love is about the real stuff.
—Cathy Young

Publishers Weekly - Publisher's Weekly
PW said of this novel about the complex friendship between high school friends, "The awkwardness of awakening sexuality, a growing preoccupation with identity and crossing the line from friendship to more are themes here with which teens will readily identify." Ages 12-up. (Apr.) Copyright 2001 Cahners Business Information.
Children's Literature - Kathleen Karr
Years after his parents' divorce, John is still tied in knots. Trying to learn to communicate again, he enters the "zine" world, producing his own personal little literary magazine. He's drawn deeper into this world by meeting Marisol, a free spirit and self-professed lesbian teenager. When friendship develops into love on John's part, emotional chaos breaks loose. Wittlinger's novel is tough and well-written. It delves deeply into the world of distressed teenagers with tight, believable dialogue, moving excerpts from "zines," and no apologies.
To quote KLIATT's May 1999 review of the hardcover edition: Creative students, sometimes outsiders, have found ways to express themselves and connect to other people through the world of zines, homemade magazines. Wittlinger uses this zine experience as the background of her main characters in Hard Love: John (Gio) and Marisol, who each produce a zine and find each other through them. The actual setting is the Boston area, with well-realized descriptions of Cambridge, Tower Records (where the zines are exchanged for free), and Provincetown (on Cape Cod) where the two go to attend an impromptu zine conference...The story begins as John and Marisol first meet. Marisol is a petite warrior, a brilliant student, an in-your-face adolescent, who announces to John and the world (in her zine) that she is a virgin lesbian looking for love. John is fascinated by her strength and beauty, and thinks he is immune to her attractiveness because he is so pessimistic about love after the debacle of his parents' marriage. Marisol is obsessed with truth telling, but both discover the complexity and difficulty of doing so...The brilliance of the book is in the development of the characters of Marisol and John, and of their growing emotional entanglement. No part of this is simplistic, no part is easy to understand—and that is as it should be. "Hard Love," a folk song by a local songwriter, Bob Franke, becomes the means by which John and Marisol recognize what they mean to each other, "the love that heals our lives is mostly hard love." KLIATT Codes: JS*—Exceptional book, recommended for junior and senior high school students. 1999, Simon & Schuster, 230p, 21cm, $8.00. Ages 13 to 18.Reviewer: Claire Rosser; May 2001 (Vol. 35 No. 3)
VOYA - Beth Gilbert
Sixteen year-old John Galardi Jr. calls himself "immune to emotion"; his insecure mother avoids any physical contact with her son and his single, intellectual father spends their father-son bonding time in search of other women. Without a dependable peer base at school, John finds solace in the insular, underground world of homemade "zine" writing and publishing. Once he befriends the quirky (and homosexual) Marisol, a fellow zine writer, John's views on love, trust, and family take on completely new dimensions. Author Wittlinger brings the reader a refreshingly quick-witted teenage protagonist in John "Gio" Galardi; male readers will find an emotional and, at times, conflicted voice as he negotiates the unresolved issues between his divorced parents, his mother's impending remarriage, and his growing feelings for Marisol. One unique point to note is the integration of zine articles and poetry throughout the novel. In addition, the non-dramatic ending is plausible without insulting teens' intelligence. Remembering that adolescence is a trying time filled with questions and feelings, Hard Love is an intriguing and absorbing novel for the gay/lesbian and young adult collections of any suburban or rural library. VOYA Codes: 3Q 4P S (Readable without serious defects; Broad general YA appeal; Senior High, defined as grades 10 to 12).
Library Journal
Gr 8 Up-John, "a witty misanthrope," meets and falls for zine writer Marisol, a "rich spoiled lesbian private-school gifted-and-talented writer virgin looking for love." A bittersweet tale of self-expression and the struggle to achieve self-love. (July) Copyright 1999 Cahners Business Information.
School Library Journal
Gr 7 Up-In the first line of this Printz Honor book by Ellen Wittlinger (S&S, 1999), John Galardi, a junior at suburban Darlington High School, tells us that he is "immune to emotion." John spends his weekdays and nights living with his divorced mother, who has literally not touched him in the six years since her divorce from John's sophisticated father, with whom he stays every weekend in Boston. Both parents assume he is getting enough emotional support from the other. John likes to read the zines that he picks up in Boston. He particularly likes Escape Velocity written by Marisol Guzman, a self-proclaimed "Puerto Rican Yankee Cambridge, Massachusetts, rich spoiled lesbian private-school gifted-and-talented writer virgin looking for love." When she mentions that there will be a new issue of her zine at Tower Records the next Saturday, John decides to wait for her to deliver it when he drops off his own zine, "Bananafish." A friendship develops around their writing and loneliness. Marisol believes in always living life to the fullest and never lying, all new concepts for John. As Marisol insists that John harness his inner resources and develop a zest for life, she exposes him to new things art, music, coffee and feelings. He can't keep himself from falling in love with her, a kind of love that she can't return. Humor flows out of John's struggle with complete honesty and his desire to remain cool and detached. Actor Mark Webber's reading (Snow Day, Drive Me Crazy) is absolutely perfect in tone for John's confused, sarcastic coolness. With the slightest inflection of his voice, he aptly portrays all of the characters in the novel. Listeners are intimately drawn into the story by this young, angst-filled voice. There is a bit of strong language, although it is always appropriate to the plot. Young adults will love the wit and poignancy of these two clever teens striving to discover who they are and if they are capable of making emotional connections.-Jo-Ann Carhart, East Islip Public Library, NY Copyright 2001 Cahners Business Information.
Horn Book Magazine
John and Marisol have a lot in common. Both have issues with trust and truth-telling, both have problem parents, and both like girls. It's zine writing, though, that brings them together. John admires Marisol's honest, funny writing in her zine, Escape Velocity, and tracks her down to give her the first issue of Bananafish, his own photocopied, stapled-together zine. All goes well with their friendship until John professes his love for Marisol, who's made it clear from the start that she's definitely, emphatically, a lesbian. In this modern tale of unrequited love, secondary characters remain flat, and even John and Marisol sometimes seem more like types than individuals (the snide, unfeeling guy and the tough, jaded lesbian working to hide their vulnerability). Adding a note of realism, though, are the pages designed to look like authentic zine excerpts, handwritten poems, and letters. For the most part, readers won't mind the teen flick cast and will be pulled along by the story and situations. It's at a zine conference that Marisol finally reaches "escape velocity," happily joining the lesbian contingent and following it to New York for breathing room-from John and from her therapist mom's suffocating affection. Although John is too upset by Marisol's departure to pay much attention to Diana, the sweet nature-girl zine writer who likes him, we know they'll end up together sometime in the near future, once he recovers from his first "hard love."
Kirkus Reviews
Changing typefaces, canted blocks of text, and occasional pale background collages give this star-crossed romance a hip look, without compromising legibility. After 16 years of studied disinterest in the opposite sex, John falls hard for Marisol, who, in one of life's little ironies, is thoroughly, proudly out of the closet. Having encountered each other through their self-written, confessional "zines," the two find commonality not only in their love of writing, but in their bone-deep distrust of others: hers a result of how her adoptive family has behaved toward her, his the product of shuttling between his self-absorbed father and a mother so traumatized by the divorce that she never hugs or touches him. Meeting only on weekends, John and Marisol develop a clandestine friendship that is tested hard when John reveals his feelings for her (discovering them himself at practically the same time), and she in turn hooks up with a trio of lesbians and takes off for New York City. They do part friends, though, and if Wittlinger (Lombardo's Law, 1993, etc.) makes Marisol a little too sure of herself to be completely believable, her bittersweet portrait of an adolescent writer caught up in a quixotic first love will snare susceptible readers. (Fiction. 13+)

Product Details

Simon & Schuster Books For Young Readers
Publication date:
Edition description:
Sales rank:
Product dimensions:
8.24(w) x 10.90(h) x 0.73(d)
Age Range:
12 - 17 Years

Meet the Author

Ellen Wittlinger is the critically acclaimed author of the teen novels Parrotfish, Blind Faith, Sandpiper, Heart on My Sleeve, Zigzag, and Hard Love (an American Library Association Michael L. Printz Honor Book and a Lambda Literary Award winner), and its sequel Love & Lies: Marisol’s Story. She has a bachelor’s degree from Millikin University in Decatur, Illinois, and an MFA from the University of Iowa. A former children’s librarian, she lives with her husband in Haydenville, Massachusetts.

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Hard Love 4.5 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 134 reviews.
Guest More than 1 year ago
Hard Love is one of the few books that can be described by using its own title. This book is literally about hard love a hard love that shatters John¿s heart into bits of pieces. John falls for Marisol, a girl who presents herself to everyone as ¿...a Puerto Rican Cuban Yankee lesbian,...¿. Even after him knowing Marisol was a lesbian, he is intrigued by her and falls in love little by little. John is not familiar with this type of feelings, so he denies he likes her at all. He has never been in love, or even been attracted to any girl. John is a high school student who only has one friend, Brian. He says and tries to convince himself that they are not friends, just someone he hangs out with so they can both say they have at least one friend. Even though they spend a lot of time together, they are very different people. John has had a tough life, while Brian hasn¿t. Also, one big difference is that Brian is girl-crazy, and John is not! He is a constant liar, and finds himself lying about the smallest things. Later he finds that the more he lies the harder it is to get out of something. Falling in love is something that can¿t be denied no matter how much you want to. Later John learns this. Later in the book, he admits he is in love with Marisol. She has become his first love, and also his hard love. There is no way in the world that a lesbian girl would ever go out with a straight guy. Marisol is convinced to show John she is not what he wants and looking for. On the other hand John is convinced he wants Marisol. This book is filled with drama, and hilarious moments. It¿s a book that can be enjoyed by anyone. I enjoyed reading something different for a change. I recommend this book mostly to high school students looking for a different type of read. Hard Love is a great story, which states that love is unavoidable. No matter how much you deny you love someone you can¿t un-love them in a second.
JimRGill2012 More than 1 year ago
Rare among Young Adult fiction—or just about any fiction, for that matter—*Hard Love* tells the story of a friendship between a presumptively heterosexual teenage boy, John, and a lesbian teenager, Marisol. Despite the somewhat predictable trajectory of the narrative (to no one’s surprise but his own, John falls in love with Marisol), the novel navigates the murky waters of unrequited love beneath the broken bridge of incompatible sexual orientations in a way that both reaffirms young adult sexual identity and convincingly reflects the bittersweet experience of teenage romance. John, who is somewhat of a social misfit, is trying his best to cope with his parents’ divorce and the overall disillusionment that most adolescents endure. He turns to zines for creativity and comfort. (The novel is set in the 1990s, so the focus on zines—which now seem quaint—is historically accurate. The noticeable absence of cell phones in the story also feels odd, considering their central role in contemporary teen culture.) John becomes enamored of a zine called Escape Velocity and vows to meet its author, Marisol. He greets her with his own zine, Bananafish, and the two become fast but unlikely friends. Literacy—and the developmental power of writing and reading—help shape John’s identity throughout the course of the novel. He even adopts a nom de plume (Gio) as he tries to envision himself as a writer, friend, neglected son (like many teenagers, John has some major beefs with both of his parents), would-be romantic partner, and—most traumatic of all—prom attendee. Although Wittlinger might lay it on a bit thick with these teens’ devotion to zines, the emotions she portrays are always genuine and credible. She successfully depicts her characters as thoughtful, reflective, autonomous teens who are well aware of the challenges they face.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
I had a hole ready to be filled
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
BunnyGirl12 More than 1 year ago
Amazing Book! 5 Stars! The book ‘’ Hard Love’’ by Ellen Wittlinger really shows that you can find love in the most mysterious ways. The story was about a teen named John who has a cold heart because he has not been ‘‘touched’’ by his mother since they parents’ divorce but does find a ray of sunshine in dark world when he meets the writer of his favorite zine’’ Escape Velocity’’ Marisol. After meeting they a grow a friendship that both of them never had before. John (Gio; his fake name) begins to fall in love with Marisol (even though she has told him before she is a lesbian) because for the first time in 6 years someone he loves finally touched. Even though they can’t be together physically they know that they will always have each other. My favorite character is this Marisol herself. Even though she has accepted herself, she doesn’t have the much self- confidence when she wears a dress and because of that she is a very reserved person, she sees the good in people and she is already to try something new. This book is paced very because it hooks you very the very first interview between John and his stepdad till the last page when Marisol and John says their goodbyes. I believe the message of this book is that love will never fade even if you’re upset with the person you love. Life can be hard but it is up to you what you want to do with it. There is no criticism I would like to offer the book is wonderful. Good job Ellen Wittlinger. Good job.
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It was pretty good
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Alecsuhs More than 1 year ago
i LOVE this to death! It makes so much sense and you can't help but to love the main character John/gio. He's that type of guy who really doesn't find the point in having a girlfriend and he doesn't really know what love is. His mom doesn't even show really any good emotion to her son at all. Then marisol comes along. And John ends up falling for her. And she ends up finding it hard to love him back in the way her wants her to. She a lesbian and is proud about it.
poor John.
yo_mariah46 More than 1 year ago
This book was very refreshing. John "Gio" wasnt proclaiming his love like lots of characters ive read about-maybe because he didnt know he was in love. The story was realistic. I could relate to lots of his feelings-ive expirenced them before. "Hard Love" occurs more often then authors like to write about. So its nice to read about the truth for change. This book still had hope tacked on to the end,making everyone happy. I say you read it.
nik-nakk More than 1 year ago
When I read the book Hard Love by Ellen Wittlinger I felt really bad for John (Gio) for everything he went through with his Mom and Dad. I believe Wittlinger¿s purpose in writing this book was to prove that even though some kids have a rough childhood, and accidentally fall impossibly in love with their new lesbian best friend, they can still survive, and make the best out of things. Wittlinger aimed this book towards teenagers, because I¿m sure teenagers, at least once in his or her life, come across an unrequited love. The main character John, aka Gio, tells the story in his point of view. It¿s important that he tells the story because the reader gets an inside look into his mind, and they see can see the growing adoration towards his new found best friend, Marisol. When Marisol first told him she liked him, he had gotten the wrong idea, which signaled sparks...¿Honest to God a shiver ran through my body... Nobody ever said that they liked me. Ever. Not even [my friend:] Brian, who probably actually doesn't." The story is set to this time period, and it was accurate to real life. There was nothing about this story that was not believable, for the fact that something in this story relates to everyone who reads it. The character I connect the most with would be the main character Gio, because he had a rough childhood with his parents, and he feels angry towards them for being so unfair to him over the past years. Wittlinger was successful in her goals in writing the book. She proved that life can be unfair for some, and throw them a few bad hands; but if they keep playing their cards, they¿re going to win eventually. I also learned that some friends are here to stay, and even if you hate their girlfriends, constantly make fun of their positive attitude, and lie about not having a lesbian girlfriend, they¿ll always be calling up everyone in the phonebook to find out where you ran away to. I wouldn¿t know what book, movie, or TV show to compare this book to. I¿ve never really heard of anything like it. Apparently a straight guy falling in love with a lesbian girl isn¿t very common. Hard Love, the title of the book is significant because that exactly what the situation was. It was also the name of a song at the end of the book that was sung to Gio. I would recommend this book to anyone who has ever been in an impractical love, and can¿t seem to find any answers, or to basically anybody. I agreed with the purpose of the book. Although I¿ve never been in that exact situation, I have fallen into an impossible love, and eventually recovered from it. This book was enjoyable, at times comical, and also a little sad during the parts he opens up about his parents. Although the ending was a little cheesy, the message it left you with was inspiring, and optimistic. Out of 5 stars, I give it 3. It was a truly engaging story about love, awkwardness, and heartbreak, and even though it ended the way it had to, we still look for that `happily every after¿ ending.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
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Guest More than 1 year ago
John was a part of me that was written on paper. I felt that all could read in and relate in a different matter. I cried and laughed. I recommend this book to broken hearts and searching souls.
Guest More than 1 year ago
The begining was a little yawny, and makes you think that the plot is about something enirely different. The most interesting parts of the book was him reading the zines, the literature he read was very original, and the relationships were very intense and complicated.The dialouge was inspiring, the ending was definently worth the wait, and the lyrics at the end made me wish it wasnt over. Overall good read, but has a lot of slow spots.
Guest More than 1 year ago
Hard Love was a good book but its a slow starter. I thought the charaters were interesting. Hard Love was kind of boring in the begining. Though it had its flaws. But I enjoyed it in the end. So pretty good.
Guest More than 1 year ago
although i read this book in a matter of hours, it was a little slow. and i thought that at some points the things that were happening were a little random. this lyrics at the end were amazing, but i didn't see how it related to the rest of the book. the book also wasn't clear. but the plot was amazing, the dialog really innovative.
Guest More than 1 year ago
Book Review Hard Love I thought Hard love was a two thumbs up I thought this was one of the best books Ellen Witlinger I ever wrote. I would give that book a 10/10 on a scale from 1-10, I really enjoyed reading Hard love. It was a lot of good parts in the book but there were also some parts when I almost fell asleep. There were good parts like when John changed his name to Gio to impress Mirasol. Ok I¿m not going to tell you the whole story of Hard love but i'm going to tell you the theme of the book. To many people it may no seem like the theme but its the theme to me. The point Ellen Witlinger makes in Hard love is that loving somebody is hard when that some one doesn¿t love you back. And that someone doesn¿t know how you feel for them. Well I hope I didn¿t ruin the book for people who are reading this and didn¿t read that actual book yet. I recommend this book to all who like the book when the boy falls for the girl. I loved every little bit of this book even though there were some chapters that were so boring. But yea this is one of the best books I ever read.