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September 4, 2018

The Opposite of a Love Story --- Guest Post by Sonya Sones, Author of THE OPPOSITE OF INNOCENT

Posted by Rebecca M

Award-winning author Sonya Sones is best known for her novels in verse, which cover an array of topics from mental illness, homelessness and grief to young love. This September, Sones returns with THE OPPOSITE OF INNOCENT, her most gripping novel yet. In this book, readers meet Lily, who has been crushing on her parent's friend, Luke, for longer than she can remember. But when Luke begins to return her feelings, Lily quickly finds herself in over her head, and is forced to examine what it means to consent, to love and to heal. While THE OPPOSITE OF INNOCENT is certainly timely, it is also a story that is deeply personal to Sones, and she stopped by our blog this week to tell us about the inspiration behind her book and what she hopes teen readers will take away from it.

All novels are hard work. But writing THE OPPOSITE OF INNOCENT was especially gut wrenching for me, because it’s loosely based on something that happened in my own family a long time ago, something that haunted us for decades and wouldn’t release me until I wrote about it.

When my older sister Diane was sixteen, a close friend of my parents came to live with us. Louie (not his real name) was thirty-five years old and had just returned from spending two years overseas, where he’d been studying mosquitos to help find a cure for malaria. My parents invited him to stay with us while he looked for an apartment.
The night Louie moved in, he told us a riveting story about being attacked in the jungle by a leopard. He’d survived by shoving his forearm into its mouth, grabbing a pistol with his free hand, and shooting it dead. As I sat there listening to him, Louie seemed like the bravest man in the world to my little nine-year-old self. And when he rolled up his sleeve to show us the scars made by the leopard’s teeth, I nearly fainted. What if it had killed Louie? I never would have seen him again! I scrambled onto his lap, threw my arms around his neck, and told him I was going to marry him someday.

What I didn’t know was that my sister Diane felt exactly the same way about him. At least in the beginning. (You can see a photo of Sonya holding a photo of Diane below.)

Diane had never even been kissed. And she was yearning to be noticed. So you can imagine how exciting it was for her when Louie told her what a beautiful young woman she had become while he was away. He continued showering her with compliments, and started spending more and more time with her. It must have felt like a dream come true when, after a few weeks of this special treatment, Louie secretly got her alone one night and pressed his lips to hers.

But after several more stolen kisses, Louie began pressuring Diane to go further than she wanted to go. Much further. When she realized that she was in way over her head, and tried to get him to stop, he told her that he couldn’t. That it was all her fault for flirting with him in the first place. And my poor sister believed him.

The thing is, it’s never the fault of the person who’s being sexually abused. And if Diane had known this, she might have been able to avoid what happened next...

THE OPPOSITE OF INNOCENT tells the story of Lily, and of what takes place when a man named Luke moves in with her family. At first, Lily feels a deep yearning to be loved, just like my sister must have felt. This poem from the novel expresses that feeling:

I feel like a book.

Like a book
that’s never been opened—

hidden away
in a long-forgotten library,                   

waiting for someone
to find me,                                                            

ease me off           
my shelf,                                                

and read me.

And just like Diane’s real life story, Lily’s story takes her to some dark places. She goes through a lot --- some of the most painful scenes I’ve ever had to write. Scenes that made me cry as I wrote them. But I felt this book, this character, deserved a hopeful ending. Just like the one my sister eventually had.

Lily’s journey leads her down a harrowing path that ultimately forces her to make the most difficult and important decision of her life. But I don’t want to give away too much, so I think I better stop here.

One thing I can tell you, though, is this: THE OPPOSITE OF INNOCENT isn’t a love story. It’s the opposite of a love story. And I hope that Lily’s tale will stay with you long after you reach the final page.