Friday, 19 August 2016

Roads from Harassment to Hope: 'Caramel Hearts' by ER Murray

Although Caramel Hearts is about a girl trying to cope with her mother’s alcohol addiction, there are plenty of other relevant issues weaved into the story; friendship, sibling relationships, first love, taking responsibility, making wrong choices, absent fathers and bullying. I wanted anyone who has experienced any of the issues that Liv and her friends/family go through to have all the feels; that the story felt real was my number one priority. 

I decided to touch upon bullying because it is a very real issue for teens – and it’s something that has far-reaching consequences for the victims in their future. In addition, the bystanders and loved ones who don’t know how to deal with or stop the bullying are affected too, with lifelong repercussions in many cases.

How exactly do you get a bully off your back? How do you protect someone else that’s being targeted? Is fighting back, or ignoring, the correct route to take? Do you tell someone in authority, or perhaps a friend or family member, or do you pretend it’s not happening? Every possible action and inaction can have such huge consequences, with the potential to make matters worse. Bullying creates anger, resentment, helplessness, and in some cases, the cycle is repeated.

Bullying comes in many forms and can be difficult to detect or prove, which makes it even harder for the victim to fight back. There’s group bullying that can be openly violent, but then there’s also friendship switches, backbiting and bitching, forced isolation, verbal cruelty and peer pressure – all equally damaging. There are also bullies who target alone, sometimes openly and sometimes secretively; they can seem really nice to the rest of the word, except for their victim, increasing the victim’s isolation. Cyber-bullying is another huge issue, both open and private – and with our increasing reliance on social media, this means it can be difficult to escape the attentions of a bully, even in solitude or the safety of home.

It is during our teenage years that we form our opinions and personalities, and so it’s no surprise that it’s a really difficult time to navigate. As teens, we feel adult enough for more freedom and responsibilities, and yet, people aren’t quite ready to listen to us – we don’t really have a voice, or at least one that is taken seriously – and this leads to all kinds of frustration and emotional anxiety. And as if these times aren’t difficult enough, when you add bullying into the mix, it’s a whole new level of awful.

In Caramel Hearts, the main character, Liv, is initially confronted with the problem of seeing one of her old friends turn against another; Liv’s best friend Sarah becomes the target of Maddy ‘Mad Dog’ Delaney’s bullying and Liv tries to help the best she can in her way. Later, when Liv becomes a victim, we see a shift in her understanding of bullying, of its consequences and how it feels.

The bully is not a nice character, but Mad Dog has a story of her own and I hope that readers can tap into that. Many factors affect people’s personalities such as poverty, life experiences, medical conditions and trauma. People are complex, rather than good or bad; they’re multi-faceted and changeable. And so, just like all the other characters, I wanted to show Mad Dog in different lights. I doubt the reader will accept Maddy’s behaviour, but I hope they can see where it stems from, and perhaps feel some sympathy.

Another important aspect of Caramel Hearts was a sense of hope. Having grown up in a family affected by addiction, and attended a school fraught with bullying, I know that in these often traumatic situations, your one true weapon is hope. Hope lets you see that life can be different to your present circumstances, that challenges can be overcome and changes can be made. Hope helps you understand that there is more to the world and that you can strive for it.

For Liv, hope lies in her friendships and in the handwritten cookbook that she discovers. The recipes provide her with a chance to be good at something; they’re a focus, but they also provide a connection to her absent mum who’s trying to deal with an alcohol addiction in a recovery centre. For Maddy, it’s a very different situation. Does she feel hope? Can she see a way out? Does she want to change? I’ll leave that for the reader to decide.

About Caramel Hearts:

Liv Bloom’s life is even more complicated than that of your average fourteen-year-old: her father walked out on the family when she was young, her mother is in a recovery centre for alcoholics, and her older sister is struggling to step into Mum’s shoes. Structured around real cake recipes, Caramel Hearts is a coming-of-age novel about love, disappointment and hope, and discovering the true value of friends and family, no matter how dysfunctional they are.

About E.R. Murray:

Elizabeth Rose Murray lives in West Cork, Ireland, with her dog Franklyn.  As well as writing, Elizabeth loves to travel and has worked bathing rescue elephants and scooping up their poo.  On her travels Elizabeth has eaten crickets, kangaroo, chicken feet, water beetles, frogs, ostrich and snake.  Elizabeth has had poetry and short fiction published in journals in both the UK and Ireland.  Her debut novel for children, The Book of Nine Lives, was chosen as the 2016 Dublin UNESCO City of Literature Citywide Read for Children. You can contact Elizabeth via her website, Twitter @ERMurray, instagram and Facebook.

Buy Caramel Hearts on Foyles anWaterstones.

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