Forgiven Are the Starry-Eyed
Christine Doré Miller
Published by: Evernight Teen
Publication date: April 26th 2019
Genres: Contemporary, Young Adult
Naïve sixteen-year-old Andrea Cavanaugh is elated when Josh, a charismatic, bright-eyed piano prodigy, becomes her first boyfriend. But the closer she gets to him, the more she realizes that he is not the boy she first fell for. In its poignancy and emotional darkness, Forgiven Are the Starry-Eyed takes you deep into the delicate and devastating web of shame that spirals from the depths of dating violence when dreamy teenage love turns dark. Andrea must find not only an escape, but a belief that she is even worthy of freedom.
My eyelids closed as if they were being drawn down by sluggish, unhurried weights. When I forced them open after several seemingly endless moments, nothing had changed. I could still make out a blurry image of Josh standing nearby, Mr. Thompson’s hands clenched firmly on Josh’s shoulders from behind. There was a crowd, I think, and muffled voices. The steel school locker felt cold against my back and I recognized the familiar feeling that lately seemed to just dwell and ache in my bones. Fear, I think it was, mixed with just enough madness to keep the blood racing through my veins … fast. Too fast.
“Why did you do that, Andrea?” Josh shouted in my direction.
My eyes fell closed again. I don’t remember what else he said. I just remember the feeling of each overly pronounced syllable piercing the air while he said it. I stared through the darkness that danced behind my heavy eyelids. What had I done?
I tried to pry open my hazy eyes to examine the faces of the expanding crowd as they stood, mouths agape. I only recognized a few. There were hardcover music books sprawled open on the tile floor at my feet. Confused, I looked to Josh, but the heavy silence of the room deafened any words he may have been saying. I gripped the ends of my soft, thin hair between my slender fingers and waited. Each thought sunk deeper than the last.
There was a poster taped sloppily against the locker behind me. I turned my head to face it and focused. The ends were curled up and there were ripples in the masking tape adorned to the edges. “Oakwood High School Invitational—TONIGHT” it read in handwritten purple block letters. There was a pixelated saxophone image pasted underneath the words, “Brought to you by Mr. Thompson and the Oakwood High Jazz Band.” I brought my hand up to trace the edges. The poster board felt crisp and thick under my fingertips. I could smell the aftermath of the permanent marker. The loud reverberating voice behind me got softer until it resembled a deep echo I could easily ignore. I started to pick at the tape from the bottom left corner of the poster until I felt the sticky residue ball up underneath my fingernail.
Suddenly the life reentered my body in one abrupt breath when I felt a strong tug on my arm. I turned and saw Ethan Marks. Everyone else was gone. Had it been minutes this time? Hours?
“Andrea! Come on,” he barked at me, interlacing my arm, tucking it quickly under his. He jerked me to a standing position and pulled me down the hall, speeding up his gate as I stumbled to catch up.
“Where’s Josh?” I asked worriedly, but he didn’t answer. We were silent as we walked through the empty hallway. I lifted my gaze, trying to catch Ethan’s eye, trying to read his thoughts. His light blue eyes, usually sparkling with laughter, were steely and somber as he charged forward, dragging me with him, away from the wreckage I’d caused.
He stopped short and took a deep breath. His eyes were unyielding and dismal as they studied me, and slowly his frustration melted into a deep sadness.
“What happened, Andrea? What was that back there?”
“I don’t know…” My voice began breaking. My thoughts were muddled beyond recognition and I couldn’t form the right words, or any words, to explain.
Ethan wrapped himself around me in a gentle, firm embrace. It felt kind. And warm. And wonderfully different. My muscles unclenched for the first time in months, and I didn’t know I was crying until I tasted the salt as it stained my face. I buried my head into Ethan’s chest as he tightened his hold on me. I wanted him to say something, to tell me everything would be all right, but we both knew better. So we just stood there, Ethan supporting me as I clasped the back of his cotton t-shirt between my fingers.
After a few minutes, I fully returned to my body as my breathing calmed. I steadied my stance and took a step backward, shakily holding Ethan’s forearms as I regained my balance. Wiping smudged mascara from my pale face, I met Ethan’s eyes and quickly looked down, fixating on a crack in the tile below me.
“Hey,” he started, “Andrea … it’s…”
“I’m okay. Ethan, I’m sorry. I’m sorry you had to … I’m sorry I … ugh your shirt.” I motioned to the tear stains on his light green tee that crept from his chest to his shoulder.
“Oh God, don’t worry about that. Andie, I just…”
“It’s fine.” I wiped my face and took a deep breath. “Thanks,” I said, squeezing Ethan’s hand and looking in his eyes sincerely, so he knew I meant it. “I should go. But thanks.” I shook my head and turned around to walk back into the havoc and face what I had done. I felt Ethan staring at me as I left. He was just another person whose life would’ve been better if he hadn’t met me. I swallowed, took a breath, and kept walking.
It was over for now, that latest incident, and there was no way to tell when there would be another one … but there would definitely be another one. I was too broken for it to be any other way.
Christine lives in the Los Angeles area with her husband and their two children. She works full-time as a senior marketing manager for a large media company and holds a Bachelor’s of Business Administration degree from Western Michigan University where she studied marketing. Growing up in the chilly midwest, she developed a deep passion for dramatic writing and alternative music at an early age, which still peaks through in her adult-corporate-mom life today. Forgiven Are the Starry-Eyed is Christine’s debut novel.
My Interview with the Author
I live in the Los Angeles area with my husband, who is a film editor, and our two young children. I also work full-time as a Senior Marketing Manager at a large media company in Santa Monica so my days (and nights) are pretty consumed with motherhood and work, but I’ve also always had a passion for writing. I grew up in Michigan and graduated with a marketing major from Western Michigan University before finally leaving the chilly midwest to start my career, first in Virginia and then eventually settling in southern California. I’ve worked in marketing at both non-profits and big corporate entertainment companies, so it’s been a really interesting journey. A couple years ago I finally decided to pursue my dream of writing a novel, and Forgiven Are the Starry-Eyed was born.
I’ve taken a few creative writing classes for fun but never thought too seriously about it until recently. Every once in a while I’d have feelings that were so big that they needed to pour out onto paper so I’d craft them into poems or short prose and the itch to write more just got stronger and stronger over time. Writing always helped me make sense of my feelings and gave me something to refer back to later to remember exactly how something felt, both physically and emotionally, in exquisite detail. I loved reading, too; poetry, fiction, and non-fiction alike, and I treasured the feeling I’d get when I read something so beautiful, articulate, and relatable. It became my dream to write a novel one day, too, that could, hopefully, give other people an escape into words and a feeling that they’re not alone.
Andrea’s story has been inside of me for a long time now and I can’t even express how good it felt to let it breathe and exist outside of my head once I started writing it down. I was inspired by a lot of things, some from my own experiences as a survivor of teen dating violence and some from the stories of many other teens who have suffered abuse at the hands of an intimate partner, whether it be emotional, physical, verbal, and/or sexual. A new study shows that 60% of teens in the U.S. have experienced some form of abuse from a person they were dating. This is a staggering statistic, especially considering it’s not an issue that is often talked about. It became my mission to spark a dialogue on this topic through a novel that could be crafted from the voice of a modern teenager. I spoke to many teens and adults alike, some who experienced dating violences themselves and some who witnessed it. Both groups felt helpless and isolated by the shame that spirals from this type of abuse, even if you’re on the outside looking in, so I created Andrea Cavanaugh to be a voice for this topic. She is a fictional character but her struggles and experiences are quite real and represent things happening on a daily basis.
The book is a work of fiction but the experiences that Andrea faces were created from true stories, whether it be from my own real-life experience, from someone I know, or from someone I interviewed for this book. Each act of violence is inspired by a real person’s life. That was important to me because this story needed to represent what’s actually happening in high schools across America, not just what my best guess would be. The most consistent thing I found through my research was the shame that survivors felt, the silence they were manipulated into, and the isolation that consumed them because those around them, even the most well meaning friends and family, didn’t intervene. While we are taught to look out for bullying nowadays, that knowledge doesn’t seem to translate if the bully and the victim are in a relationship. Dating violence can be more manipulative than typical bullying and it can begin more subtly, plus it’s easier for outsiders to view it as “relationship drama” or “not my business” or assume the victim is staying in the relationship by choice instead of by fear. I’m hopeful that Forgiven Are the Starry-Eyed can show the reality of what happens behind closed doors in these young abusive relationships and what goes on emotionally in a victim during and even after the relationship ends. Hopefully this will educate people on the severity of this issue, teach them signs to look out for, and know when and how to offer or ask for help.
It’s not easy! My daughter is almost 3-years-old and my son was just born a few months ago. I began writing this novel when my daughter was an infant, which is funny because that’s when my life started to be the busiest it ever had been since that’s when I was first learning how to balance motherhood and career, so it seems like a strange time to then take on the additional daunting task of writing a novel. But I think that having a daughter and experiencing the love that comes with parenthood and the desire to protect your children at all costs is part of what pushed me to finally write this story, even though I really didn’t have the time. I looked at writing this book, though, as something that would benefit my daughter in the long-run. I wanted to show her that women can do anything they set their mind to do and that her potential is limitless. I also wanted this story to one day resonate with her when she’s old enough to date, and I hoped it could help her understand that she is worthy of safe, respectful love. So I made the time to write it, which usually meant I stayed up late after everyone went to bed. Even though it was hard, it felt like an investment to me. I was fulfilling a dream of mine to write a novel without sacrificing my time as a mom or my time at work, plus I was telling a story that I think is important. I figured that in the long-run, I wouldn’t regret missing out on extra sleep, but I knew I would regret if I never wrote this book or shared Andrea’s story with the world. After a lot of work writing, editing, and pitching my manuscript to different publishers, I ended up signing the publishing deal with Evernight Teen when I was newly pregnant with my second child, and now working on the marketing of my debut novel while juggling two kids and my day job is definitely taxing, but being the mom of a newborn again reminds me how invincible women are. And having a son now just fuels my desire to get this story out there because I think it’s important that young men bond with this story, too. My goal for my son and all young males is that they understand their privilege in our society and learn how to be advocates and allies for consent, respect, and healthy relationships. It’s on all of us.
Don’t give up on your dream and don’t assume that you have to spend less time with your children to make it happen. It’s not a “this or that” kind of thing, it’s about balancing. Think of the incredibly strong, brave, and intuitive things you do every day just by being a mother. It’s really awe-inspiring! So if you truly want to write and you have the itch to journal, or write a novel, or start a blog, whatever it may be, then I encourage you to make the time for it. Your voice is important. We all have to prioritize parts of our life so we don’t spread ourselves too thin, and while family is often the top priority (as it was for me), that doesn’t mean that you can never write, it just means that you may not finish a project as quickly as someone who can write all day every day, but that’s okay! Slow and steady is better than not at all.
I started this book first by creating the main characters: Andrea, Josh, Harper, Carter, Ethan, and Stephanie. Once they had names and faces in my mind, I wrote thorough character descriptions for myself to refer back to, so that everything each character did and every piece of dialogue was authentic to their unique identities. After that, I created a rough outline of where I thought the story would go, and then I just started from the beginning. Music was a big part of writing this book for me, too. I created a soundtrack on Spotify of songs that represented the mood I was going for and songs I thought the characters would listen to so I could really get in their headspace. I let the story flow out of me, not looking back to reread anything until the first draft was complete. At that point I had the bones of the story all put together, so then it was about rereading and editing, which I did a lot of; sometimes it was as small as cleaning up a sentence structure and sometimes it was as big as cutting a whole scene and starting from scratch, or moving the entire timeline around. When I felt like it was in a good place, I began sharing it with some friends of mine who are high school teachers and had them help me secure some of their teenage students who wanted to help by reading and providing feedback, too. This was invaluable because they all brought different, unique, and important perspectives for me to consider and they helped me be accountable to keeping the story authentic to modern day teenagers. When I had a final draft ready, I started shopping the book around to publishers, and with that process came some additional notes and suggestions from industry professionals, some of which I accepted and some of which I chose not to incorporate because I felt like changing certain aspects would reduce the integrity of this very particular story I wanted to tell, so it became important for me to understand what I was willing to change and what I wasn’t. I realized that I needed to keep the plot completely intact for me to feel like it represented my ultimate vision, but I was fully open to constructive criticism on the writing itself. It then became about finding the right publisher who shared my vision and believed in this story enough to take a chance on it, which, I’m grateful to say, I finally did.
Somewhere comfortable, like my bed or couch, where I can put my feet up, dim the lights, and listen to music loudly in my headphones. I like to feel relaxed, not pressured, and inspired to just see what wants to come out.
The story was written with high school and college-aged young women in mind as the primary readers since that’s the demographic of the narrator, but I think it has a certain appeal to young men and adults, too, just in a different way. I definitely think parents, teachers, counselors, or anyone who works with teens could get something out of reading this book to help them better understand the mindset of teens in abusive relationships and educate them on how/why this happens. But since the story is written through Andrea’s eyes, I think people who can relate to Andrea will be the most interested in her story.
I love dark, realistic fiction, both YA and not, especially contemporary stories about love, loss, friendship, family, despair, and hope. I’m a sucker for a good drama, especially when the protagonist is vulnerable, honest, and someone I really want to root for.
I’m not totally sure! I have a storyline mapped out for a sequel to Forgiven Are the Starry-Eyed but I haven’t decided yet if I’ll pursue it or not. I think it depends on the response to this novel first. If readers are curious about what’s next for Andrea, then I’d love to discuss a sequel with the publisher, but I’m open to the idea that readers may be happy to just let the story breathe after the way it ends in Forgiven, too, so we’ll see! I’m open.