Written way back in the late nineties in a time before Facebook, Ellen Wittlinger’s novel Hard Love tells the story of two teens who meet through their love of zines. (Zines are homemade magazines generally written by one author and focusing on his or her life and interests, a somewhat primitive version of Facebook and blogs.) John uses the pen name Gio when he writes a zine called Bananfish. He becomes fascinated, perhaps infatuated, with another zine writer named Marisol whose zine is called Escape Velocity. He’s so interested in seeing what Marisol is like in person that he stakes out a record store in order to meet her when she drops off her new issue. Marisol ends up being more beautiful, charming, and having more in common with John than he ever imagined. But despite them immediately hitting it off, the relationship never becomes what John would like it to be. John also clashes with Marisol regarding honesty. Marisol claims to always say exactly what she feels while John lies to Marisol right from the start by telling her his pen name Gio is his real name.
There is a lot about zines in Hard Love, including the main characters attending a zine convention toward the end of the book. There are also familiar young adult novel elements such as the prom and John/Gio’s divorced parents. However, Wittlinger’s inspired character development makes even the most familiar plot points seem as new as the latest Facebook app. This is definitely a novel worth checking out by one of the most consistently enjoyable young adult authors writing today.