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Richie's Picks: FAULTLINE by Janet Tashjian, Henry Holt, September 2003, ISBN 0-8050-7200-4


"I looked her in the eye, dead-on. 'We love each other. It's that simple.'


"This time [Mom] looked as if she were hiding a smile. 'It's never that simple,' she said. 'Being in a relationship is the most complicated thing in the world.' "


According to the National Domestic Violence Hotline website:

"Teens are seriously at risk for dating violence. Research shows that physical or sexual abuse is a part of 1 in 3 high school relationships. In 95% of abusive relationships, men abuse women. However, young women can be violent, and young men can also be victims. Gay, lesbian, bisexual and trans teens are just as at risk for abuse in their relationships as anyone else. Abusive relationships have good times and bad times. Part of what makes dating violence so confusing and painful is that there is love mixed with the abuse. This can make it hard to tell if you are really being abused."


Health Canada's website notes:

"Jealousy is the most common reason for assaults in dating relationships. When a man continually accuses a woman of flirting or having an affair, and is suspicious of everyone he sees with her, he is possessive and controlling...Adolescent girls, in particular, feel social pressure to stick it out because having a 'bad' boyfriend is better than having no boyfriend at all."

Such facts and statistics certainly point out the need for good YA literature dealing with adolescent dating abuse. There have been a couple of great stories published in recent years, and Janet Tashjian's FAULTLINE, which hits the shelves in time for Back To School Night, joins that list of must-reads.


Becky Martin is a high achieving high school senior from San Francisco who is also an aspiring standup comic. She's got intelligent, supportive parents. Her best girlfriend, Abby, is also a comedic hopeful and a fan of old movies. But while Abby has a steady stream of boyfriends who come and go, Becky has spent high school high and dry:


"Friends and family have always described me as two things: smart and funny. Never pretty, never interesting, just smart and funny. I wasn't complaining--those were necessary qualities for my chosen line of work, but it would be nice to at least register on the attractiveness scale once in a while.


"Unlike Abby, I hadn't had a boyfriend since Peter last year, and even that was stretching the definition of boyfriend way past anything Webster would have recognized. I had better luck holding the attention of a roomful of people in a comedy club than a guy--I couldn't decide if that was good or just plain pathetic. Idea for a routine--in my neighborhood growing up, I was everybody else's invisible friend."


Enter Kip Costello, a fellow aspiring comic with talent, creativity, and looks. He sweeps Becky off her feet with his attention and his thoughtfulness. Things move quickly. Becky has school work, two part-time jobs, college applications, and her comedy career, but they all seem (at least to her parents and Abby) to be taking a back-seat to Kip.

According to Becky, nobody understands how special her relationship with Kip is.


But what Becky doesn't understand is that Kip is as lacking in self-confidence as she is. In a series of brief notes that Kip writes to himself (and that we get to read), Kip constantly worries about the relationship. His micromanagement of Becky's life and the inherent frustration he feels when everything doesn't go perfectly results in his abusing her. But Becky is in too deep to listen to anybody--including herself.


"A relationship is a lot like a hot bath. The more you get used to it, the more you realize it's not so hot..."


FAULTLINE is a great title for this important book because (1) it's set in San Francisco, and (2) there is no bad guy, no one at fault, unless it is that system that compels adolescents "to stick it out because having a 'bad' boyfriend is better than having no boyfriend at all." I'm sure they briefly considered PUNCHLINE, but discarded it as too insensitive a pun for too serious a situation.


But that serious situation does not mean that FAULTLINE is one long downer of a book. The camaraderie between Becky and Abby is genuine. We like these two intelligent and comedic girls and can see why they like each other. Becky's part-time gig as a tour guide to the City's movie landmarks is also fun and really informative. And then there is Delilah, about whom I'll say no more then that she gives the book a San Francisco homeyness that us Northern California crazies will thoroughly appreciate and enjoy.

Many people have wondered how Janet Tashjian would follow up the wildly successful THE GOSPEL ACCORDING TO LARRY. While FAULTLINE is a very different novel, Tashjian is again able to look closely at a serious problem in our society while telling a story filled with smart humor that teens will devour.


Richie Partington



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