Isabel Cruz was fifteen years old when she met Tom Stevens. She was 15 when they started dating, and 16 when she lost her virginity to him. By the time she turned 18 and went to college, everything had fallen apart. This hadn’t been an ordinary love, though. Not a love between two dear friends, or even high school sweethearts. This had been the most taboo sort of love there was: a relationship between a student and her teacher. Isabel started her high school career as a normal student, but set her sights on Tom Stevens as soon as she met him, and pursued him with an intense – and sometimes reckless – fascination. When he finally approached her after swim practice and told her that he shared her feelings, it was the start of a forbidden and dangerous relationship.
When I first read the blurb about this book, I wasn’t exactly sure what to expect. As I read the book, it was definitely not what I expected! While it is a love story, it is not your typical love story. It is controversial and it definitely leaves you thinking.
In the story, we are introduced to sophomore student Isabel. She is on the swim team, and her swim coach Mr. Stevens is quite the hunk. As the year starts to progress, Isabel develops a crush on Mr. Stevens and it turns out that her crush is not one sided at all. He is interested in her and they are about to embark on one roller coaster of a relationship.
Sweetest Taboo was a good book. I would definitely say that it is an adult book, not YA. It covers adult themes and there are adult scenes in it. What I loved though is this book really got my mind going. It made me wonder about the true definition of love. Can it exist in any situation, between absolutely any two people? Even though we are taught that it is wrong, can love exist when there is such a huge age difference? I’m still not sure the answers to these questions.
“Tom?” I asked in a hoarse whisper, my stomach full of butterflies. It was still a little strange to call him by first name, even after all these years. Especially when everyone else at Royal Oaks High called him “Mr. Stevens.”
“Isabel,” came the familiar voice. “How are you?” His voice was gentle and deep. It soothed me instantly, the same way it had when I was fifteen. There was an edge to his voice tonight, though, and I sensed that there was something bothering him.
“Is something wrong?” I asked. I didn’t want to admit that I already knew exactly what it was; my high school graduation was coming up. It would bring an end to our current arrangement. We hadn’t talked about our future yet, but I had known that it was coming.
After a few pensive moments, Tom spoke.
“You’re my sweetheart,” he told me, his voice sad. “I can’t imagine life without you. I don’t want to have to imagine life without you.”
Tom rarely used terms of endearment with me, these days. When he did – in these rare moments when he called me his sweetheart – my heart melted. All of the turmoil, the sleepless nights, the protracted nature of our relationship, became nothing more than a passing inconvenience and very worthwhile. Tonight, though, I knew that the word came with drawbacks. They gave me the courage I needed to say the words I’d been dreading.
“My graduation won’t affect our relationship, you know that,” I told him. “Look at how much we’ve been through together. If we made it through all of that, we can make it through anything. Tom, I want to be with you always, no matter where life takes me after graduation.”
I spoke passionately, fully believing in what I said. I was absolutely devoted to this man. But somewhere deep inside, I knew I was being dishonest. Neither of us wanted our relationship to change, but it was clear that things were going to change, and soon. I had just been offered a place at a small, private liberal arts college on the East Coast. The choice had been difficult because although I wanted to stay close to Tom, I also wanted to move forward with my life. In the end, I accepted the offer. Tom hadn’t really reacted when I told him. It hadn’t affected our relationship. Now, though, the cracks were starting to show.
“I want to believe that,” Tom answered quietly. “I loved the last letter you wrote me. Every time I read your letters, I feel like I’m sixteen again. I feel like I’ve come out of a deep sleep.” A pause, and then, “I can’t lose you, Isabel. You’re the reason I wake up in the morning; I can’t love anyone more than I love–”
Suddenly I heard a distinct click on the line. My heart plummeted.
“Did you hear that?” Tom snapped, his tone suddenly terse. “Did someone pick up the phone at your house?”
“Hold on a minute, let me check inside.” I slipped back inside and listened, but the house was completely quiet. The kitchen phone was on the counter, my mom’s office was dark, and I was holding the only other phone in the house.
“Who picked up the phone?” Tom repeated, worry coloring his voice.
The click had not originated on my end of the line. I should’ve been relieved, but my panic rose even more.
“Tom,” I whispered into the receiver. “It wasn’t here, everyone’s asleep…”
“I have to go,” Tom interrupted abruptly. “Danielle’s coming.”
There was another click, and the line went dead.
Interview with the fabulous Eva Marquez:
What influenced you to write this story?
EVA: I grew up as an immigrant in a lower-to-middle class Southern California suburb. So I tapped into that experience in ‘Sweetest Taboo’, which chronicles the love affair between a young Hispanic schoolgirl and her much older, married teacher. I drew from my experiences growing up to develop several plot ideas. Romantic experiences are universal. Provocative, illicit and risqué contexts do not take away from the experience of love, and that’s what this debut book sets out to communicate.
I was also intrigued by the news of one of my former teachers being convicted of [sexual] misconduct with a minor. Since I can remember, I have always been fascinated by similar stories making the news, but like many people, wondered about how these relationships originate and how they flourish under the radar. In Sweetest Taboo, I got to unravel one of these clandestine relationships, one exciting page at a time.
Is any of it based upon something you have seen in real life?
EVA: Everybody always wants to know if the book is autobiographical. Although the story is fiction, I intentionally employed the memoir approach when creating the story. To answer the question, Isabel’s character was inspired by my own awareness of what was going on around me in high school. Relationships between students and teachers were not common, but they were rumored about. As I perceived this taking place around me, I took notice. It wasn’t until a few years ago when one of my former teacher’s was charged with sexual predation and sent to federal prison that I was inspired to write Sweetest Taboo.
How did you come up with the character traits of Isabel and why did you choose Chile as her home country?
EVA: Isabel represents a combination of my tight group of friends in high school. I intentionally chose one defining characteristic of each of my three best friends in high school, and one of myself, and wove them into a single character…Isabel. Many reviewers have found Isabel to be intriguing, well beyond her years, mature, but yet very much a teen at the same time. Her dominant traits are: outgoing, stubborn, intellectually mature, and most of all…brave!
In choosing Chile as her home country, I wanted to weave in the reality of immigrant life in the United States. As an immigrant myself (I was a child when my family immigrated, so I do consider myself 100% American at this stage J), I experienced vulnerabilities all around me and I wanted to weave those into this story. Isabel’s move to Chile was a representation of what I experienced during my teen years when my family decided to return to our home country, Argentina (Chile’s neighbor). Chile was a natural choice because I am very familiar with our neighbor to the West and because Argentineans are often chided for their dislike of Chile and all things Chilean. In choosing Chile, I wanted to demonstrate, also, that not all Argentineans hold Chile in contempt.
Have you received any negative feedback for writing this book?
EVA: As ARCs were shared widely I expected to receive some negative feedback from more conservative readers about the subject matter of my debut novel. However, to date, I’ve not received a single negative response, nor have I been questioned as to my motives for writing such a book. In fact, reviewers have been very honest about feeling uneasy about reading my book, and doubting their decisions to read Sweetest Taboo. Those reviewers are the same ones that gave my book 4 and 5 stars, making statements like, “I know the subject is very controversial, and I have no doubt that there will be a lot of talk about it, so either you like it, or you don’t. But I went into this read with a very open mind and I do not regret it.” With that said, I have braced myself for some controversy!
Do you believe that true love could exist in this type of situation?
EVA: Some people may not think ‘true love’ is possible or even sustainable for any amount of time, regardless of who is involved. I, however, believe that it really depends on the individuals who are in the relationship. Things such as age, maturity, communication skills, combined with trust play a huge part in any relationship, and I suspect that maturity and communication really are the key ingredients. There have been a few stories in the news regarding student/teacher relationships that have appeared to be based on true love, as sordid as the circumstances may have been. The LeTourneau case comes to mind, a woman who was impregnated by one of her sixth grade students, went to prison for seven years, and maintained an emotional relationship with the boy until she was released from prison, only to marry him years later and have a second child!
I would imagine the problem with sustaining a relationship of this type is the secrecy involved. The teacher could never speak of it to anyone for fear of arrest and incarceration, how terrible that must feel to have a secret such as this, never to be able to share his or her love with anyone. Then there is the student who would most likely confide in someone they thought they could trust with their secret. Once that happens, and I am sure this is how most relationships of this type are exposed…the cat is out of the bag. The relationships that are exposed turn into media events where the teacher is usually prosecuted and the student is portrayed as a victim, regardless of age or circumstance. I realize these relationships are illegal and uncommon, but I do believe some could work if they are truly based on love and mutual respect.
Tell me about your writing routine. Do you like to have any specific noises or music in the background?
EVA: I have a pretty hectic day job loaded with a lot of responsibility so my writing routine is limited to weekends and if I’m lucky a sick day or two here and there. I write (and work) best during daylight hours, as I absolutely LOVE my hours of rest. So, my typical writing day starts off after an early breakfast (I have a toddler so she wakes me up very early on the weekends). I settle her in for a while or send her off to her friend’s house across the street for a few hours, and then I sit at my beautiful study, which overlooks two different patios in my back yard, that are both adorned with potted flowers. If it’s warm out, I open the French doors and let the breeze and warmth in, as I like to feel nice and cozy when I write.
Ever since I was in school, I was fortunate to be one of those students who could concentrate and zone really well and that has helped tremendously in my writing pursuits. For example, I can start writing at 9am and be so engrossed in my work that I could write for approximately 2-3 hours and have a fully developed chapter completed. Of course, once that happens then I have to call it a day because I’m mentally exhausted. My workflow is very much driven by short spurts of concentration and generally speaking, those spurts will equate to one fully completed chapter. Once I save my work and fetch my daughter, I cease writing for the day. However, if during the course of the day an idea for the book just hits me, I jot it down on a notepad next to my computer and leave it there until I can sit down again for a 2-3 hour period and develop that idea.
What has been the hardest obstacle you have had to overcome to be an author?
EVA: The biggest obstacles I have faced in becoming an author can be divided into two distinct categories, but they are both inexplicably linked. One is time, and the other is subject matter and plot development. My debut novel, Sweetest Taboo, was written over a period of my life when I actually had more time to develop the story. Now, as a single mother with a child to raise and working 50-60 hours per week, I find that ‘time’ is an incredible asset and sometimes a luxury that escapes me. Without time, it is difficult to delve into the subjects and character development that I would like to. Although the lack of time continues to be a primary obstacle to my work as an author, I have found the necessary time to continue with my writing endeavors and will soon be releasing Book 2 of the Sweetest Taboo Saga called Tainted Love, where readers will learn more about the characters and what happens to their lives and their love as they continue their journey.
Who is your favorite author and why?
EVA: There are dozens of authors I admire, but two that have captivated me with their work are Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie and Julia Alvarez. Ms. Adichie is Nigerian-born and now living in London and I think I had an instant connection with her work because I lived/worked in Nigeria for two years and was able to really get to know the southern Nigerian culture and context because of my work in the communities. Her first book, Purple Hibiscus, resonated with me because of my experiences in Nigeria and her second book, Half of a Yellow Sun, was so expertly written and wove four amazing human and social stories that I fell absolutely in love with her prose and skill for telling complex stories. Ms. Adichie writes about what she knows well, Nigeria and Nigerian culture, history and society and because she does so, her books include incredibly sincere stories. Julia Alvarez is a Dominican-American who writes primarily adult fiction, although she has also written young YA fiction as well, which are characterized by fantasy-type series. My favorite all-time book from Ms. Alvarez is In the Time of the Butterflies, which is a uniquely narrated book written in the perspective of four sisters growing up in the Dominican Republic under the dictator ship of President Trujillo. It’s superbly narrated and the story just tells itself effortlessly, it seems. Another book I very much enjoyed was How the García Girls lost their Accent, which is a story about Dominican immigrants to New York and their journey into mainstream American life. What these two authors have in common is that they are strong, confident and experienced women writing fiction about their natal lands, writing about their contexts and weaving extraordinary stories of strength and love in times of adversity.
Do you have another book in the works?
EVA: Although Sweetest Taboo was intended to be a stand-alone novel, I realized that there was so much more to tell. Tainted Love is the sequel to Sweetest Taboo, which will be released on March 5, 2013. I’m busy finalizing Tainted Love, which is Book 2 of the Sweetest Taboo Saga. In a few weeks I will seek input from readers by way of polls/contests that will inform the final cover art for Tainted Love and a lucky winner will also have the privilege of naming one of the main characters in Book 2. Readers can expect to pick up where they left off and find out what happened to Isabel and Tom’s relationship. Complex and somewhat disturbing revelations, controversy, and definitely some tears are in store for readers!
Do you have any advice to authors just starting out?
EVA: Undoubtedly YES! Friends and colleagues are often stunned when they learn that I have written a full-length novel of publication quality. Many ask how a single mother working a full-time demanding job and completing her doctoral dissertation can also tag on writing and publishing a book. What I always say is, everything is possible with dedication and (most importantly) with passion and vision. For those people who have a story in their minds that they would like to develop into a book, a story, a novella, or what-be-it, I advise them to start small and begin jotting notes on paper, or on a laptop, outline app or whatever method is most suitable. The most important component of writing, I believe, it jotting down those first thoughts about a story and then reshuffling those notes into a well-thought out outline. That is probably the hardest part, but once it’s complete then a person has a concrete path to follow.
Finally, anyone who perhaps thinks that they do not have the capacity or talent to write will never truly know the true talents one harbors until they try. Aspiring writers should dedicate some time every week to jot down some key notes, plots, characters, timelines and develop well-crafted outlines and most importantly, they should never become discouraged by others who may think they are a bit ‘nutty’ for trying to write a book. Many people asked me what credentials or training I had in creative writing when they learned I was writing a book, and I would respond ‘none’ only to find quizzical and questioning faces staring back at me. Nevertheless, I knew how to write using correct grammar and I knew how to tell a story well, so in essence, we all have the potential to become excellent writers of fiction or other genres as long as we believe in our abilities and we dedicate time to our passion for writing.
Born in Buenos Aires, Argentina, daughter of European immigrants, Eva Márquez has spent most of her life outside of her home country. At the age of five, Eva accompanied her parents to the United States, where the family settled permanently. After graduating from university, she went on to complete graduate studies in International Relations in Spain. Eva received her Master of International Studies degree from the University of Sydney and went on to work in the global health field in Sub Saharan Africa and South East Asia. Eva currently resides in Southern Africa.
http://www.SweetestTabooBook.com (website AND blog)
www.facebook.com/Sweetest.Taboo.YA.Book (FB Book page)
http://youtu.be/flff2TcA4AQ (Official Book Trailer on YouTube)
Eva will award a Kindle touch to one randomly drawn commenter during the tour, and a swag pack of goodies to one commenter at each stop. Did you hear that? Leave a comment and you could win either a Kindle touch or some swag!!!