Summary from back cover:
Living with the past can be difficult, even at fifteen...
When Jenna refuses to reveal the truth behind her exclusion from school, she is sent away for the summer to stay with her aunt in a sleepy countryside village.
It's here that she meets Gabriel, who seems so genuine and different from other people she knows. But boys have been nothing but trouble for Jenna, and Gabe can be moody and withdrawn.
Despite her caution, Jenna can't help falling in love with Gabriel, and the longer she spends with him, the more deeply in love she falls. Could he be her soul mate? But then she discovers that Gabriel is living with a deep secret of his own...
When the story begins, Jenna is torn between what she feels is right and her faith and trust towards her friends. She puts her friendship above her own interest since she is excluded from her (very posh and renowned) school for something we learn she didn't do, at least not on her own. She lies for her best friend Mia and her love interest Jackson and takes all the blame though we only learn later in the book why.
Her mother doesn't stand by her (not that Jenna said anything not to sound guilty) and sends her to her sister Sarah's house in a tiny village called Little Netherby. As any village, everyone knows everyone and Jenna learns very quickly that people were awaiting the new trouble girl from London. She realises after a while that being sent in a village in the middle of nowhere isn't as bad as she had anticipated.
The story is like a snapshot in Jenna's life, it doesn't focus on one theme only or one sole aspect of Jenna's life and the characters, as well as the plot, are all multifaceted. The book is told from Jenna's point of view and we can see her evolve and grow up before our eyes. At the beginning of the story, she lives in the shadow of the gorgeous and cunning Mia and she takes the blame for something she didn't do because "that's what friends do". The reader realises soon enough that Jenna is deluding herself when she keeps saying (trying to convince herself?) that Mia will soon accept part of the blame and everything will be solved.
Funnily enough, no matter how scorned Jenna feels at the beginning of the story to be sent in an unknown place in the middle of nowhere, it is actually where she can finally be herself. Far from people's expectations and plans, she takes care of her aunt's second-hand bookshop while Sarah stays home, suffering from a breakup (or a pause) with her long time boyfriend Kai.
All the characters in the book are so fascinating in their own way that you can't help falling for them. I really liked Jenna as a character, and how she learns to stand up for herself. Gabriel was such an interesting character as well and I loved reading the moments where he spent time with Jenna, only Jenna. The feelings they have for each other are so pure and keep growing as the story unfolds. Jenna trusts Gabe as she had never trust anyone before, even though both prefer keeping their secrets.I enjoyed reading about the few adult characters in the story because they felt so real in my eyes. They all have their own problems and sometimes they really don't act as if they are fully fledged adults. Sarah, with whom Jenna stays, is so caught up in her feelings for the poet Kai that she doesn't stop to think about what he is doing. Jenna has never really liked Kai, so the reader sees him (or rather, doesn't see him) through her eyes. He is full of himself and is quite a flirt. Jenna thinks he uses Sarah and she doesn't understand why her aunt would bother with him in the first place. Jenna also doesn't understand the cultural and spiritual aspect of their relationship. Kai is so perfectly described that I felt flustered whenever he was mentioned and wanted to throw random objects at him. As you will read in the interview below, Sarah and Kai relationship offer a contrast from the stable feelings Jenna and Gabe have for each other.
There are various themes in the book and I really liked how trust was treated when you compare the trust between Jenna and Gabe, or the one Jenna has with her family or her best friend Mia.
Unlike some books I read with HIV positive characters, Soul Love isn't a book about HIV but rather a book which happens to have an HIV positive character in it. Of course, the issue is explored and the book isn't always light but the general story is so much more that HIV isn't seen as this horrifying virus threatening people, but as a hard condition to live with. I felt the subject was treated with a lot of sensitivity and gave information about how teenagers live with it, especially their need to keep it a secret.
The context of the book is simply amazing. As Jenna, you find yourself seeing before your eyes that tiny village and its tiny second-hand bookshop where you meet some adorable (and odd!) regular customers. You can even feel the anti-folk music from Charlie's band coming out of the pages. The book is so wonderfully written that you get immediately taken in the story and feel for the amazing characters.
It is one of the best Young Adult contemporary novels I have read and the story has stayed with me ever since. I cannot wait to discover more books by Lynda Waterhouse!
As part of my week dedicated to HIV in Young Adult literature, I met the author of Soul Love Lynda Waterhouse in the beautiful Royal Festival Hall in South Bank for a little discussion. Funnily enough, I was so nervous that I talked more than I let Lynda! As I didn't have anything to record the conversation, I will just sum up what we talked about!
When you love reading and you get passionate about writers, their lives become – sometimes – as fascinating as the stories coming out of their imagination. Not their lives exactly, but how they came to find the idea for a book or “how they write”. I found the story of Soul Love to be so simple and at the same time so powerful that I wanted to know more about Lynda, not only regarding the book in itself, but also about her writing process.
Lynda told me that she had always wanted to write. She listens often to other people’s conversations or observes people around her and most of the time that is where she gets some inspiration for her stories or her characters. If you go on her website you can actually send her a snippet you heard! Lynda also stressed the fact that you can’t be a writer today without having at least a part-time job. Though we get blinded constantly by the likes of J. K. Rowling and Stephenie Meyer, most writers actually have to work at the same time. And it is also a way to get inspiration.
We discussed about the young adult genre in general and how Lynda didn’t set to write a book specifically in this genre, but rather wrote a story which was later seen and marketed as a young adult book. For some books, being marketed as either adult or young adult fiction makes them lose some appeal. The boundaries should definitely be less definite between the genres.
Following this topic on YA, we talked about first person point of view versus third person narrator and how one of the main characteristic of the young adult genre is the use of the first person point of view. Soul Love is written in first person but Lynda told me she was feeling a bit rebellious and didn’t feel like using a first person narrator all the time.
Soul Love is very popular in Brazil though not as much in the UK and Lynda might be interested to write a companion novel to Soul Love. [To which I say YES PLEASE!!!!!]
On The Book
As you may know, I have some hope of one day finishing one of my crazy ideas and transform it into a book, but I am also a very curious avid reader, so I was really really curious as to the writing process of Soul Love and how it went from a snippet to a book.
Lynda explained that she wanted to write something close to an atypical romance novel. She didn’t set to write Soul Love as an issues book and not even a book about HIV.
Two years previously, she read an article on teens living with HIV and how they really couldn’t tell anyone about it since they would be ostracized and judged. She kept this newspaper article in her snippets file - medication moved on faster than prejudices and misconceptions, she told me. Lynda went to Body and Soul where she met various teenagers affected by or living with HIV. She volunteered for a few sessions and even met Adele Minchin the author of The Beat Goes On.
I asked Lynda about the adult characters who, on one side seemed very normal (as in entirely desecrated and with their own issues) and on the other completely unnerving. I mean, Jenna’s aunt Sarah?
That complete waste of space that is her boyfriend Kai? I wanted to shake Sarah during the entire book to tell her to stop thinking about Kai and that she deserved much better than him! Lynda told me that Sarah and Kai’s childish behaviour acted as a counterpoint to Gabe and Jenna. And I have to be honest that it looks very realistic (sadly).
I am always interested to read books set in a “small town” as opposed to a big city. Coming from a tiny village myself, I entirely related to the setting in Soul Love and how people acted with each other! She wanted to take her character from a big school with a wealthy surrounding and “friends” which use Jenna more than enjoy her company to then send her to this small village where everyone knows everyone and everyone gossips about her arrival. The village is not based on any particular place and only exists in Lynda’s imagination.
The end of the book
I found that the ending of Soul Love was very bittersweet and I was interested to know whether people usually questioned it. Lynda told me that in the first versions of the book the ending was different (as in darker) and that when she shared it with a 15 year old girl she met at Body and Soul who had filled her in on the practical aspects of living with HIV Lynda felt very strongly that she didn’t want any of her characters to die.
BODY AND SOUL
Body and Soul is a UK charity supporting children, teenagers and families living with, or closely affected by HIV. The charity proposes many activities for various age groups to inform and support people. It is one of the only charities in the UK which helps not only individuals but families and groups of people. The Guardian published an article last Sunday about Body and Soul's new campaign called In My Shoes to raise awareness in schools and youth clubs. The campaign will feature picture of celebrities and teenagers affected by HIV, their faces hidden by their shoes. The Guardian article shows the testimony of Peter who is 20 year old and has been living with HIV since he was a child, and for him "
If you would like to support the charity or maybe volunteer, head over to their gorgeous website.
If you would like to support the charity or maybe volunteer, head over to their gorgeous website.
Lynda also gave me some blog, film and music recommendations which I copied below:
Special links :
An Awfully Big Blog Adventure: the ramblings of a few scattered authors
Buzz About Books: Blog of the Islington Writers for Children group
Soul Love features a lot of talks about Anti-folk music. Lynda explained that her passion for this music came more or less while she was researching the book. Having never heard the mention of “anti-folk” before, I asked for a few recommendations to get acquainted with the style!
The Wristcutters, a love story by Goran Dukic
All The Real Girls by David Gordon Green
Diary Of A Lost Girl by G W Pbast and with Louise Brooks
I had an amazing time with Lynda and was thrilled she took the time to answer all of my questions! A million thanks to Lynda and Piccadilly Press for sending me the book!