Her Story: Ladies In Literature with Ashley Herring Blake

Her Story: Ladies In Literature is a special, month-long series on Pop! Goes The Reader in which we celebrate the literary female role models whose stories have inspired and empowered us since time immemorial. From Harriet M. Welsch to Anne Shirley, Becky Bloomwood to Hermione Granger, Her Story: Ladies In Literature is a series created for women, by women as twenty-four authors answer the question: “Who’s your heroine?” You can find a complete list of the participants and their scheduled guest post dates Here!

About Ashley Herring Blake

Hi, I’m Ashley. I’m a former songwriter-barista-teacher and now I’m trying to be a writer. My debut novel Suffer Love (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt) is out spring of 2016. It’s packed full of lots of gloomy heartbreak and kissing as well as an angry boy who likes to bake coffee cake, a girl named after the unfortunate wife of a philandering literary genius, and, naturally, a teacup pig. I live in Nashville, TN with my husband (aka, the Christmas Elf) and two boys where I drink a lot of coffee and take a lot of walks and scheme ways to bake the world’s best pumpkin chocolate chip cookie.

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“Grief is a house
where chairs
have forgotten how to hold us
the mirrors how to reflect us
the walls how to contain us.”
– Part of a poem by Lennie, found under a stone in Gram’s garden.

Grief doesn’t really make sense. People talk about five stages, and I’m sure inside the emotional mayhem you can find those little mile markers, but when you’re in it, they don’t feel like stages. Grief isn’t linear. When you reach Acceptance, there’s no guarantee you won’t one day be right back at Angry. Grief is loud and quiet, every color sandwiched in between black and white, mountains, moons, and oceans.

For those of you curious lot who haven’t read it, The Sky is Everywhere is largely about grief. But more than that, it’s about a girl discovering herself in her grief, instead of escaping it. Before the book opens, Lennie Walker loses her older sister, Bailey, to a fatal arrhythmia. In the aftermath, Lennie retreats inward, puts off her best friend and family for reasons she can’t explain, makes out more than once with Bailey’s heartbroken boyfriend for even more reasons she can’t explain, falls in love (not with the aforementioned boyfriend), leaves sad poems scribbled on trash all over town, and finally finds a way to tell her own story. She’s a messy mess with a side of messiness.

Like Lennie’s sister, my mother died suddenly. Three years ago this past April, I awoke in the morning with a mother and went to sleep that night without one without a whole lot of warning in between.

I’m still living in a house like the one Lennie described above. Sure, some days it feels more solid than others. Half the time, I don’t think I’m even cognizant of the fact that I’m in this house. I just know that sometimes it feels like the chair I’m sitting in can’t hold me. I don’t recognize the reflection in the mirror. The walls of a familiar house make me feel too stifled and too free all at once.

This is grief, and Lennie — more than any other person in my life, real or fictional — taught me the how. The what. Even the why. Life is full of defining moments, and for those of us with mild (okay, moderate…okay, fine, severe) penchant for books, there’s usually a character that helps us get a grip on that moment. Process it. Revel in it. Move on from it. Lennie is the girl who swept in and made sense of one of those defining moments in my life — a moment no one else could really understand.

Lennie experiences all the feelings. One minute, she’s giddily falling in love with dreamy Joe. The next, she’s flooded with guilt for being happy. The next, she’s a heap of tears and despair that she, the younger sister, will grow older Bailey ever will. These shifts are lightening fast, sometimes even all at once, layering one on top of the other until it’s hard to tell them apart. She finds solace in making out with Toby, her sister’s boyfriend. In her head, she knows this is wrong. In her heart, he’s the only person who understands, who can really feel with her. She can’t walk away from that connection, even after Joe comes into her life.

Now, no one get silly here. I’m not saying cheating on your significant other is part of grieving. I’m saying grief doesn’t follow a pattern. It’s guts and impulse, madness and tears tucked away like secrets. I can be sitting with my supportive husband and feel a million miles away, wanting to talk and refusing to talk, angry at nothing, sad at everything. I can be in the middle of telling a new friend about my mom and feel like laughing. I can go days without thinking of her, then feel guilty because the not thinking means acceptance and the acceptance means I’m okay without her.

And I don’t want that.

But I don’t want to grieve forever, either, because no one can function that way.

See what I mean?

Grief is eighteen-wheel trucks and feathers.

But here’s another thing Lennie helped me understand: Grief, once experienced, is part of my story. The death of a loved one isn’t the only thing that needs acceptance. I also have to accept the grief. It’s circular nature. It’s sharp teeth and soft caresses.

And I need to accept who I am in it.

Lennie made her decisions. She owned them. She rolled around in her mistakes, in the nonsense, until she was ready to get out. Until she was ready to accept them. I love Lennie for her bravery. I see myself in her, all that mess and discovery and anger and love. It’s overwhelming and Lennie showed me how to let the wave overtake me, knowing it wouldn’t sweep me away in the end. It’d knock me around for a while, but eventually it’d spit me up on dry land, just like it did with her.

Lennie was fierce, even when she felt weakest. Fierce in her mistakes. Fierce in her love. Fierce in her grief. And, eventually, fierce in her living.

“Beside me, step for step, is the unbearable fact that I have a future and [my mother] doesn’t.
This is when I know.
My [mother] will die over and over again for the rest of my life. Grief is forever. It doesn’t go away; it becomes part of you, step for step, breath for breath. I will never stop grieving [my mother] because I will never stop loving her. That’s just how it is. Grief and love are conjoined, you don’t get one without the other. All I can do is love her, and love the world, and emulate her by living with daring and spirit and joy.”

Title Suffer Love
Author Ashley Herring Blake
Pages N/A
Genre Young Adult, Contemporary, Realistic Fiction
Publisher HMH Books for Young Readers
To Be Published 2016
Find It On Goodreads

Seventeen-year old Hadley St. Clair’s life changed the day she came home to a front door covered in slips of paper, each of them shouting the ugly truth about her father and his year-long affair. Now, Hadley just wants her father to leave her alone. In fact, she wants everyone to stop expecting her to slip back into her old life, where a father is someone she can trust and romance is something that happens to real people, not just to characters in fairy tales. She knows how to handle herself – trust no one and feel nothing. She falls into a steady routine of ignoring her parents and messing around with nameless boys who help her forget.

Then she meets Sam, the new boy with a broken family and a little sister who adores him. Despite her efforts to shut him out, something in Sam feels familiar and even exciting. She might be willing to take a risk for a guy like him. Sam wants Hadley just as much as she wants him, even though he knows he shouldn’t. Because Sam has a secret that could ruin everything; a secret he’s been keeping since the day somebody taped dozens of papers to the St. Clair’s front door.

3 responses to “Her Story: Ladies In Literature with Ashley Herring Blake”

  1. Marisa Reichardt says:

    Love this book. Love this post. Love you.

  2. I have a colorblock-style shirt that LITERALLY contains those exact colors. I’ll have to take a pic to show you haha
    Lauren @ Bookmark Lit recently posted…Burn, Rewrite, or RereadMy Profile

  3. Wow. Just…wow.
    One of my all-time favorite books / authors and a topic that is all too familiar to me as well.
    My mom passed away a little over a month after SKY was published…but I wasn’t able to read it until almost two years later.
    I can’t tell you how much this post touched my heart, Ashley — especially this:
    My [mother] will die over and over again for the rest of my life. Grief is forever. It doesn’t go away; it becomes part of you, step for step, breath for breath. I will never stop grieving [my mother] because I will never stop loving her. That’s just how it is.
    Big love to you for sharing this, Ashley — and of course to Jen for bringing this amazing series to life!

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