Love in children’s literature : the pain, the glory, the wonder

It’s a big old subject is love. Love changes everything. All you need is love. Love in media simply is. It’s one of the core tenets of our humanity, of our experience, and so we talk about it. We share it. We are inspired by it. We are made by, reshaped by and broken by love.

I was looking at the poster for the forthcoming The Fault In Our Stars and I felt my heart shatter at it. That book, guys, that glorious hideous heartbreaking brilliant book. It made my world, did that book, and then it took it from me. It is perfection. The Fault In Our Stars breaks my heart and it fascinates me, all at once. I remember reading it, a little bit slowly at first, but then shattering at the end. It’s in the way John Green writes love. He writes the sort of love that’s soaked with truth; of loss and finding of yourself, all in the same desperate life-hungry breath, of a vicious, intoxicating intensity and of the way that it’s just everything, it’s all you are, it builds you but then it can all shatter in a heart’s beat.

He writes love in a particular sort of way that I envy, madly.

I also have a slight suspicion that he writes love with a rare and exciting perspective. We all know about instalove, that love that comes from one glance at An Other, right? That love that just happens and takes the world by storm. Think about say everyone in Twilight (whether it’s insta-sniff, insta-precognitive-premonition-type-thing or insta-imprint-in-a-slightly-unnerving-manner) for one example of how it works. Of course that’s not the only sort of love that features in children’s literature. There is the parental/familial love of something like a Miffy, coloured in bold and guileless colours, used to stunning effect in Dear Grandma Bunny. Or of a similar note, the sort of love that is in something like Goodbye Mog, a book that drips in love and regret and the realisation that with love comes a kind of inevitable ultimate pain.

Love is what makes us, really, when it comes down to it. That ability to care about somebody else to the extent that we sacrifice ourselves to keep them safe (such as in Persepolis when Marjane Satrapi’s parents send her out of the country to be safe), or the ability to want to make them happy (I defy you not to want to hug Hugless Douglas).

And it’s exciting in literature how this can be explored and, in a way, manipulated. In my book at the moment I’m writing a lot about love and the pain that comes with it and, how, perhaps coming to terms with that pain and accepting the weight of that pain, is all worth it. Because it is. We love, we lose, we grieve, we sigh, we live, we die. We keep going. And it’s books, literature, that holds our hand through the process. Loving isn’t something we learn or maybe ever understand. But it is. It is, it is, it is. Sylvia Plath writes about love, in many places and in many different, striking ways, but particularly hits it here:

“I can never read all the books I want; I can never be all the people I want and live all the lives I want. I can never train myself in all the skills I want. And why do I want? I want to live and feel all the shades, tones and variations of mental and physical experience possible in life. And I am horribly limited.” 

That’s not a new question. It’s not something we suddenly go, hey, I’m twenty six (or whatever) now, I want to learn about everything everywhere but I can’t. It’s something we have as children, it’s something I’m still realising now. It’s something, quite vivid, behind our urge to read, maybe, behind our urge to consume, to experience. We want the world. We always did.

And love can help get us there. Love, whether it’s reading it, or experiencing it, or longing for it whilst writing your diary in the kitchen sink. That’s why love in books is so important. It brings us together, it pulls us apart, and it makes our hearts grow, grow, grow with the glory that could, can and will come for us. And sometimes, finding love in ways we’ve never found it before and finding ourselves in it, in ways that we’ve never found before, makes us become brighter, makes us more.

“I’m in love with you,” he said quietly.

“Augustus,” I said.

“I am,” he said. He was staring at me, and I could see the corners of his eyes crinkling. “I’m in love with you, and I’m not in the business of denying myself the simple pleasure of saying true things. I’m in love with you, and I know that love is just a shout into the void, and that oblivion is inevitable, and that we’re all doomed and that there will come a day when all our labor has been returned to dust, and I know the sun will swallow the only earth we’ll ever have, and I am in love with you.”  

– The Fault In Our Stars

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