This is about one of the main themes in almost everything I write: consent.
Why is it so important to me to write about this, for both male and female young readers? Well, for a lot of personal reasons, from a lot of personal experience.
It's hard for me to touch on this subject in plain words, in my own voice, because the memories are painful, and tied up in all kinds of other feelings. But when I sit down to write fiction, it always bubbles to the surface, simmering under every plot twist. As hard as I try to write about other stuff, consent and abuse are what want page time (insert obvious trope about writers working out their issues on the page).
One of my favourite reviews of Black Chuck is from a reader named Enid Wray (and not just because it's glowing!). She touches on "the sensitive treatment of consent" as one of the main positives of this book, and I'm so glad about that, because the consent in this book isn't necessarily obvious, though the whole book is steeped in it.
I don't harp on about why it's important—in fact, I don't think I even use the word once. Big sister though I am, I didn't want to write a finger-wagging book about right and wrong. Rather, this whole book is wrapped in issues of consent that (I hope) seep through the pages and into its readers' hearts.
Evie stumbles through a world she's not sure she has agency over, and she doesn't know that she can stop the things that don't feel right to her. Réal, though he never explicitly asks for her consent, is, in his every action and word towards Evie, asking for it.
"You okay?" he asks her, countless times. Not just with physical touch, but with everything. He is always checking in to make sure she's okay with him and his actions. And to me, this is what consent is about. Not just asking for "permission" to be physical with another person, but making sure that, at all times, they are comfortable with the choices they're making in regards to their own body.
But I also wanted to make that a sexy thing. A swoony thing. And not just some vibe-killing formality that we all must adhere to in the age of #MeToo
I wanted Réal's asking, in itself, to be what's so appealing about him as a boy. He's tough as heck, not afraid of getting into scraps, fiercely loyal to friends, drives a shitty car, swears his face off, AND asks for consent. He's cool, brooding, and aloof, AND asks for consent.
This is a major thing I wanted readers to take away from his character: that it's possible to be all the things a male hero usually is in YA books, and still ask for consent.
And I wanted to write a character that male readers would love, and want to emulate, or at least see themselves in a little bit. Someone who screws up, and gets duped, and feels horny, and confused, and mature, and responsible, and terrified of growing up, all at once.
Another review I love, which was given to me in person by a student at the Forest of Reading celebration in 2019, was that he—a tall, athletic, self-professed teen boy who "hates reading"—loved my book, and couldn't put it down. I don't remember his name, but it was honestly the highlight of my day to know that Réal had reached him.
And Réal is by no means perfect. None of us are. He makes some pretty huge mistakes, as we probably all have. But he learns from them. Eventually, he sees that some of his choices are bad, even if they feel good. I wanted to give him—and the readers—permission to fuck up, and still be the "good guy."
In the words of Enid Wray: "this is a messy book - as in life is messy. Don’t read this looking for simple answers. You won’t find them. Instead, be ready for complexity and nuance."
I couldn't have said it better myself!