Valentine’s Day is two weeks away and we’ve been talking a lot about love and romance, warm fuzzy feelings and happiness, and generally those are the feelings that are and should be associated with love. Unfortunately though, love is all too often abused and taken advantage of. You may not be aware but the month of February, among other things, is “Teen Dating Violence Awareness Month.” According to LoveisRespect.org, a website dedicated to engaging, educating and empowering young people to prevent and end abusive relationships, “nearly 1.5 million high school students nationwide experience physical abuse from a dating partner in a single year.”
Shannon M. Parker’s debut YA novel, The Girl Who Fell, was heavily inspired by the sad stories of young women in abusive relationships so it’s fitting that its upcoming paperback release (2/28) falls during Teen Dating Violence Awareness Month. Shannon herself has become something of a crusader against dating violence, working to spread awareness however she can, and it was with that in mind that Shannon talked to us about her inspiration for The Girl Who Fell. We’re happy to open up the extended excerpt of The Girl Who Fell again for a limited time and we hope Shannon’s words—both below and in her YA novel—move you as they’ve moved us.
It is such a small word. Three tiny letters. A conjunction. Nothing you particularly focus on when reading or chatting.
Until it balances something ugly, justifies something hard.
When a girl tells you she knows it’s wrong the way her boyfriend treats her, but she loves him—that is when you notice this word. I did.
In my work with teens, I hear this justifying ‘but’ pass the lips of the fourteen-year-old-girl who is staying with the boy who beat the twins from inside her belly because the boy has promised her forever. Her eyes light when she tells me about the engagement ring that will come. How they’ll be married. How his father will give them the trailer at the back of the property. She tells me this and I wonder if she notices how her hands can’t help but rub back-and-forth over the band of her stomach, flat now.
Her boy didn’t mean it.
He loves her.
He will never hurt her again.
I know the college-bound student. Smart and driven. I see her long shirts in summer, the way she hasn’t met my eyes since she met her boy. She whispers this ‘but’—she whispers now—when she tells me she’s not leaving her rural town for college. She remembers being the girl who wanted to get out, get away. But she stays behind for the boy who is attracted to her light—the bright beacon of possibilities I see fading into shadows.
Her boy loves her so much.
He can’t let her go.
So he keeps her too close.
I listen to the ‘but’ on the phone when the girl who was one credit away from completing her alternative high school diploma calls again to say she won’t make it in.
Her boy can’t give her a ride.
He didn’t finish school so she doesn’t need to either.
He doesn’t need her having options.
These girls are not senseless or weak. They are in love and they cannot see past that love. They cannot see the worth that bubbles in them like a geyser waiting to jettison into the world.
My debut is not their story. It is a work of fiction, though my inspiration for the book grew out of my time with these girls and so many others. Listening to their stories made one rise in me. And I hope my debut helps end a culture of blaming the girl—writing her off as damaged—just because she falls for the boy who wants to control her.
Shannon M Parker is an author and advocate. She has served as a volunteer to teen mothers, helping young families to access education, wellness and housing. Parker has also opened her home to children in foster care, providing safe harbor when needed most. She has worked with policy makers for the last two decades in an effort to protect federal and state funding to support our country’s most vulnerable citizens as they pursue literacy, vocational training and access to quality healthcare. You can find out more about Shannon M. Parker and her books at shannonmparker.com or @shannonmparker.