They called Charles Schmid “the Pied Piper from Tucson.” He was a charming psychopath who “fascinated and terrified” author Emily Ross. True to fashion, he was charming, quirky, and intelligent. His seductive nature allowed him to kill at least three women, and he was the perfect inspiration for the antagonist of Half in Love With Death.
In her stunning debut, Emily Ross sweeps the 1960s and everything that came with it, exploring the turbulent era and domestic abuse.
Half in Love With Death takes place in Tucson, Arizona in 1965. After her sister Jess disappears, Caroline Galvin teams up with Jess’s boyfriend Tony to track her down. Tony, certain that the answer to Jess’s disappearance lies in California, convinces Caroline to follow his lead, thrusting her into a new and dangerous world.
“The story I wanted to tell could only have happened in the sixties. It was a more innocent time,” said Ross. “The sixties are often characterized as a time of peace and love, when in fact they were a very tough time to be a teen.”
Although the novel falls under historical fiction – something more of is sorely needed in YA – it is not entirely based on the life and murders of Charles Schmid.
“The photos I found of Tucson in 1965 and the surrounding desert haunted me,” said Ross. “Thinking about what it would feel like for Caroline to live so close to such a vast and mysterious place sparked my imagination.”
This mysterious pull, coupled with her sister’s disappearance, leads Caroline into the world of Jess’ boyfriend, Tony. Tony is someone not to be trusted, the typical “bad boy”, although Caroline finds that out a little too late.
Half in Love with Death explores the “bad boy” label, abusive relationships and the archetypes most often associated with them. Tony is introduced into the story as bad news. Caroline is the token “good girl.” Jess is often described as troubled and lost.
“I think one of the reasons ‘good girls’ fall for ‘bad boys’ is because their goodness and wish to please makes them feel trapped, and ‘bad boys’ give them the push they need to break free and be themselves. There is also a cultural stereotype that bad boys are sexier and more exciting than good boys. The good girl label has negative connotations. Good girls are considered timid, dull, dutiful, and not as attractive as bad girls. Those are absurd generalizations that I believe derive in part from a cultural bias against girls who are smart, ambitious, or cautious because they think things through. Many teen boys who struggle with managing their anger, impulses, and emotions are dismissed as bad boys. The label often sticks with them, starts them on the wrong path, and limits their options for overcoming their problems.”
Having a troubled sister and parents who put immense pressure on perfection and normality put an immense strain on Caroline. This pressure combined with warnings from her peers increased her vulnerability and need to rebel, making her the perfect victim for Tony, who charmed her into a relationship with an immensely skewed power dynamic. Ross was well on her way to writing a novel about obsessive love, and Schmid was the perfect inspiration for Tony.
“I didn’t consciously set out to write a classic abusive relationship. Rather, when I wrote scenes with Tony his manipulative abusive behaviors emerged naturally.”
Tony displays all of the classic behaviors of an abuser: he toys with Caroline, guilts her, becomes angry with her, and showers her with gifts. Reading such a relationship is often difficult to stomach, but it is incredibly important to display such a relationship in literature.
“Teens are just as likely to be in abusive relationships as adults, maybe more so because their emotions run high, and they are less experienced about what to expect from a partner. I’m glad to see topics like dating violence and rape culture tackled in YA, and abusive relationships belong there too. It’s very important for teens to understand both the allure and danger of these relationships so they can recognize them in their own or in their friends’ lives.”
Ross thinks “the first hurdle is recognizing that you are in an abusive relationship. There is a lot of information available online about the signs of an abusive relationship. If you think you are in one, don’t be afraid to ask for help.”To any teens who may be in an abusive relationship, there are resources available to help, and there are people who care. “It can be very difficult to get out of an abusive relationship on your own and having the support and protection of professionals who understand these relationships is important.”
Have you read the book? Let us know what you think!