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I kind of want to riff off some things Ana mentioned in her first post (I am going to frame this as having a conversation with another post, not stealing Ana’s idea, even though I’m now going to quote Ana’s words…):

‘There’s a lot of potential hurt involved when someone who’s already in a relationship falls in love with another person, but guess what? It happens, and it doesn’t make them a traitor.’

Love triangles, which always end with one disappointed party, can be unsatisfying, to say the least, but they crop up again and again in romance and young adult fiction. I have to say I often feel kind of over the love triangle and I know romantic trigonometry is not welcome around these parts, so this seems like the oddest way to begin our joint blog venture. I feel like we should all watch that highly entertaining, educational video of James Blunt singing ‘My Triangle’ on Sesame Street at this point to diffuse any tension…



Love triangles commonly move fast. The three main characters appear early on and a spark is established between the characters who aren’t yet together. In ‘When the Stars Go Blue’ Caridad Ferrer sets her love triangle up slightly differently, giving her first romantic pairing more time together to give her readers a real feel for their attachment and their flaws.

Soledad, a gifted, classically trained dancer has a backstage conversation with Jonathan, a talented horn player. Jonathan asks her to tour the summer competition circuit with his drill corps, which needs a dancer to complete their portrayal of Carmen. Soledad has always wanted to be a ballet dancer, but has been advised by her mentor, Madame, that she should focus on a discipline less likely to destroy an athletically built dancer like Soledad. Upset by what she sees as her mentor’s lack of faith in her, she decides to take the role instead of taking up a place that Madame has arranged with a latin dance troupe.

Approaching Soledad about the role of Carmen is Jonathan’s way of finally getting up the courage to talk to the girl he’s liked for four years. When she wins the role he makes his feelings clear and they find themselves embarking on a romance just as they’re about to spend a whole summer living out of coaches together. Both of them are highly focused, creative people who have previously left little space in their lives for romance, which means they’re both in the dangerous position of having to test out how relationships work on each other. Their romance is physically and emotionally intense (read hawt), but their high level of intensity quickly shows up both characters serious emotional insecurities.

Soledad’s insecurities manifest as a need to be wanted. Her mother left her with her grandmother when she was very young and she never returned. Although Soledad has a loving relationship with her grandmother, she does have abandonment issues, which seem to have partly shaped her professional ambitions to be a great dancer. The feeling that she needs to be the best, in order to feel worthy impacts on her relationship with Jonathan, as she feels the relief of being wanted and recognises that she has the ability to give something perfect to another person:

‘what I felt as I kissed Jonathan back was the most tremendous sense of tenderness for this sensitive, beautiful boy and underneath that was, well…he wanted me.

He wanted me so much and I could give that to him.

Tell me, how was I supposed to resist?’

Jonathan buries his insecurities under an extremely rigid façade, but his issues are essentially the same as Soledad’s. His lack of self-confidence also stems from parental disapproval and abandonment and he needs to be wanted, but also to be the one and only perfect person for Soledad.

In a more equal situation Soledad and Jonathan would be well matched romantic partners who could help each other through similar issues, but Soledad is always a more self-assured character than Jonathan. She also doesn’t make a successful relationship with Jonathan the centre of her focus, while Jonathan almost sees Soledad as his redemption from the severe criticism his father constantly hurls at his personality. Early on in the book, once Soledad is involved with the corps and him Jonathan reveals he’d be happy to sack off the corps and they could just, like, travel and explore each other all summer. Soledad meets with the corps because Jonathan introduces her, but then she accepts the role because of her own personal drive. She is never so focused on him that she forgets her own dreams, while he would gladly give up a professional career as a musician for her.

Soledad’s strength and confidence in some areas makes her rather intoxicating to watch, but the fact that Jonathan can’t match her confidence and can’t make himself the sole focus of her life means that the relationship fills him with constant doubt (doubt which is all created by Jonathan’s worries and his father’s pressure, not by her awesomeness). Jonathan has been interested in Soledad for four years while her love for him is new minted, which is the first indication of romantic inequality that arises. His issues with his self-worth always result in more violent, or fearful outbursts than Soledad’s. His crazy home life makes him insecure and Soledad must constantly reassure him. He also resents her journal writing because he feels it keeps her from expressing her thoughts to him, but Soledad has to all but shake honesty out of him. As the pressure on Jonathan and on his relationship with Soledad increase his rigid control fractures and his insecurities do the young couple great harm.

While on tour with the corps Soledad meets Taz, a talented Spanish football player touring with his team. They strike up a teasing friendship with him, but they begin to connect on a deeper level as they talk about their homesickness and Carmen. Jonathan becomes jealous, but initially he and Soledad dismiss this as normal romantic jealousy that they can get past. As Soledad continues to meet Taz and their connection grows Jonathan must be continually reassured and it's clear that his jealousy is escalating. He’s territorial, appearing at her elbow whenever Taz is around.

All your sirens should be screaming ‘Danger! Romantic core unstable!’ right now.

The difference between the representation of Jonathan and so many ‘romantic’ paranormal heroes who shall not be named is that Ferrer frames his behaviour so that the reader knows that he is not acting in a normal, romantic or acceptable way. Soledad understands the justified emotional fragility that causes Jonathan to be possessive and uses that understanding to excuse his behaviour for a while. Her behaviour is realistic because passion so often gets in the way of reason and Jonathan is for a time, just a genuinely lovely, but damaged person who deserves someone who understands him despite his bad boyfriend issues. The fact that there are other people in the novel, like Jonathan’s mum, who stand around making quiet worried faces signals to the reader when Jonathan’s behaviour tips from insecure and needy to insecure and dangerously possessive.

The overbearing, irritating features of Jonathan’s romantic personality begin to accumulate until Soledad does find them too annoying to tolerate. She reacts against Jonathan in her thoughts and in the way she responds to him. She begins to understand that this relationship may not be right for her (although she still thinks the relationship can work because she doesn’t quite understand how badly Jonathan is going to snap). In ‘When the Stars Go Blue’ readers see the gradual breakdown of a first romance that is beginning to fail not because there isn’t enough love to sustain it, not because anyone cheats, but because sometimes two people don’t work together no matter how much they care for each other. Jonathan is just too emotionally messed up at this point in time to be able to create an equal relationship and Soledad needs more than he can offer. It’s not his fault, there are some powerful things at play that have made him this way and he needs more than a romantic relationship to sort his head out. It’s no Soledad’s fault, she wants different things.

While Soledad works her way through the problems in her first serious relationship she begins to fall for Taz, although she remains committed to Jonathan. Sure, she looks at the hotness and thinks the hotness looks good, but she loves Jonathan and it’s only slowly that she begins to think of Taz as someone she could kiss and not just some delicious eye candy.

One of the many fantastic things about this novel is that Soledad’s attraction to Taz isn’t shown as a result of Jonathan negative behaviour. Ferrer gives Soledad her own agency; she determines her own mind and realises that she’s made a connection with Taz. At the same time she’s still very much willingly in her relationship with Jonathan and when he reacts badly to her dancing with Taz one night she doesn’t dump him and run to Taz, she wants to make it work but only if Jonathan can set realistic expectations for their relationship:

‘I hadn’t done anything. It had been close tonight, yeah, but I had stopped. Had made the conscious choice to pull away when the alternative could’ve been so easy….
Because maybe we were only eighteen, but if we were even going to try to be together, for the next year or next fifty years or whatever, he was going to have to get that we might run into this again. Next time it might be him, attracted to another girl, and would he be able to back off – to make that choice?

If we couldn’t figure this out, then we were over.’

‘When the Stars Go Blue’ is having a genuinely subtle, serious, sensible conversation with its readers about romance and offers an alternative to a lot of romance tropes (the idea of ‘The One’, the ‘it must be someone’s fault’ break up, the ‘romantic love can fix anything’ plaster, the ‘it wasn’t really love if I love someone else after’ denial).

Here are some of the goodies that we have so far in Ms Ferrer’s smart conversation about romance:

An explanation that your first love isn’t always the only one you love, but they were still someone you loved

A subtle look at things that are not ok in a partner, however hot, nice or vulnerable they may be

The idea that new creative projects continue to be important to girls even after involvement in that project has turned up a romantic partnership

Bonus point for something I haven’t mentioned yet: A heroine who tried sex when she got curious about her body, before she met her first love, but doesn’t mention regretting these encounters

So nothing goes wrong right? It all ends with smartness and sense RIGHT?

Weeeeelll…

Jonathan sees his jealousy realised when Soledad and Taz dance together. Soledad doesn’t cheat on Jonathan and the book is still on course for an alternative, but realistic romantic trajectory. But Jonathan sees their strength of feeling and flips out in monumental fashion. This is where what I wanted from the story and what the story always intended to do parted ways. Jonathan has a psychotic break and does something so, so awful that there is no way he and Soledad could ever be together, even if he changed and got all his shit together. It is monumentally awful.

Now on the one hand the story is following one of a few logical paths for Jonathan’s character. Jonathan’s insecurities build, making his behaviour more controlling, until he reaches a peak of obsessive control that leads him to commit an awful, abusive act. These relationships manifest in real life and we just don’t see the reality of this addressed enough in YA. The novel is also a reworking of Carmen (a story I really feel I should have known better before I started reading this book) and must follow that stories plot. Jonathan takes the part of Don Jose (who eventually murders Carmen out of jealousy) so there’s limited room to change his actions.

My problem is that in making ‘When the Stars Go Blue’ a book about extreme romantic control Ferrer cuts my hopes for another kind of book that we don’t see too often in YA. From the sensible (yet still romantic) approach to romance and sexuality I was led to hope that this would be a book that properly explained how you can love someone, not end up with them and that can be ok. There are a lot of tragic love stories where fate and other people get in the way of romance. There are a lot of books where it turns out that a first romantic partner wasn’t so perfect and the hero or heroine flies into the arms of someone less awful. There aren’t very many stories where love goes wrong due to general human issues and the protagonist moves on to a new relationship, but is still able to say they loved that first person even if they would never go back to them. That’s what I was expecting from ‘When the Stars Go Blue’ and whatever kind of wrong basis my expectations were built on (I really should have looked into Carmen first) it was still kind of disappointing to find out that this wasn’t going to be THAT book.

Of course projecting my own expectations on this book isn’t fair (but what’s done is done for my personal reading). Jonathan and Soledad’s relationship is still extremely valuable as a corrective to romances that frame the possessive, insecure hero’s behaviour as perfectly rational and acceptable. And the novel is valuable as a work of art and entertainment, even without the examination of creepy romance and its consequences. It expresses the passion of creative dedication. In many parts it reflects a tone of passionate intensity that expresses the sultry seductiveness of some of the classic works of tragic romance. It presents characters who feel like people with their own stories and motivations outside of their relationships with each other (although I feel that Raj, Soledad’s dance partner got a bit stiffed in this aspect). Soledad’s narrative voice is a great driver for the text as she’s passionate about her own path, but also thoughtful about others, which means we get a clearer insight into other characters than we would if she were more self obsessed. The pacing of the story is great, lingering in the present where readers will want a bit more detail and introspection, but able to skip ahead in places where reports of events will get us to where we want to be faster. It is a passionate, different addition to young adult romance

It’s just…expectations. They’re a killer. I was hoping for a different end to the love triangle and I got one, but it wasn’t the one I wanted. I guess that just means we need so many diverse stories that a reader like me is spoiled with excess :)
 

Date: 2011-03-09 03:25 pm (UTC)
nymeth: (Default)
From: [personal profile] nymeth
One day we will find THAT book. One day! Maybe we can convince Renay to write it for us :P

Date: 2011-03-10 07:58 am (UTC)
renay: Pink pony with brown hair and wings on a yellow background bucking hind legs in the air. (Default)
From: [personal profile] renay
THAT book is not contained in my brain! THAT book is one I am not talented enough for! SOB.

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