BLEED LIKE ME by Christa Desir
There are love stories that make you smile. That turn you on. That beguile and enchant you. That depress you and haunt you.
I think Christa Desir has written one that covers all of the above in Bleed Like Me.
First romance and first love is an evergreen subject for young adult literature. I’m personally extremely partial to any romantic or sexual content in YA stories because it was always an issue for me as a teenager, whether I was involved in either or not.
There is such strong desire in those years and its tangled up in so many things. It’s a twitch your nethers, but it’s more, too. It’s loneliness. It’s splitting apart from your family and the good ache that comes from that, from leaving people you suspect might not really know you like you want to be known. It’s fantasy and love and admiration. It’s being seen, in your new, weird body, with your new, weird views, and your new, weird knowledge about what the whole world actually means.
But all of that doesn’t equal pretty. Doesn’t equal happy. Doesn’t equal satisfying and nurturing and content.
And that is the kind of relationship that we see between Michael Brooks and Amelia Gannon in Bleed Like Me. Both of these characters just need-want-need so hard that when they collide, they think they’ve won the lottery. They think they’ve found the key for the lock that’s shut them out all these years. They think their union is the antidote for life. The secret ingredient. The answer to the riddle.
Except, they are both just broken messes of humans, lying side-by-side. They are naked to each other literally, but still keep secrets. They are lying to others, they are lying to themselves. They use so many terrible methods to cope with their losses and hurts. And they cannot get enough of each other.
I have said before that I want to see more sex in YA.
Bleed Like Me has it.
I have said before that I want to see more realistic adults in YA.
Bleed Like Me has that, too.
Now I’ll add that I want to see fewer tidy and happy endings in YA. Because the end of adolescence isn’t the end of life. It’s just the beginning of the journey. So wrapping up your story by a hanging a nice “message” on the door handle of the plot is sort of ridiculous. Nobody figures out sex and love and friendship and family issues when they’re 18. Because love and friendship and family issues represent our life’s work. There is more to come, on all of those things. And guess what? It may be even more painful or ugly than what’s already happened.
Life isn’t simplified when you enter adulthood; in fact, it’s the opposite. The end of a YA story is the realization that it’s even more difficult and complex and surprise! Now society expects you to shoulder most of the responsibility for muddling through it.
There is something beautiful about muddling. There is something beautiful about failing. There is something beautiful about heart-break. It’s all beautiful to me, because it’s honest and true. Above all else, Bleed Like Me is an honest and true book.
I want more stories like Bleed Like Me. I want to see damaged kids muddling through. And failing. And getting their hearts broken. This is how we learn the goddamn lessons. This is how we become who we are. I don’t care if I see characters that get saved, or characters that triumph or characters that end up happy.
Can I see that our characters might survive? That’s the question that propels me to turn pages. Lesson be damned.