“Loving another person and letting yourself be loved by them is one of the most vulnerable, brave things you can do.”
Author Kaitlyn Hill talks growing up and how books have helped her navigate the messy pains and trials of love over the years. Check out her debut YA novel, Love from Scratch, and follow her on Twitter at @thekaitlynhill.
Love stories are—foodie romance writer pun intended—my bread and butter.
Some of my earliest memories are of watching animated princesses find their Prince Charmings and true love’s kiss (some of which have aged better than others). I was making my dolls act out romance tropes like enemies to lovers or forced proximity long before I knew such things existed.
When I started reading YA, I gravitated toward love stories and girl power narratives, and if a book had both, even better. Sarah Dessen, Meg Cabot, Ally Carter—these were authors in my youth who depicted girls finding themselves and their voices while also falling in love. I remember feeling empowered by and enamored with these stories.
But outside of fiction, I often felt like I was getting mixed messages about being a girl, growing up, and falling in love. Girls who dated too much were easy, looked down upon. But if you didn’t date at all, was something wrong with you? Were you a prude? It wasn’t good to be overly fixated on love and romance—that stuff was superficial. But you can’t ignore it forever—don’t you know every woman’s purpose is to marry and start a family eventually? And these were only the beginning of the long list of sexist—and contradictory—expectations of what girls should do, say, be.
A lifetime of love stories in all my media still hadn’t prepared me for my own journey with coupledom. By the time I first found love in my late teens, it’s safe to say I was as confused and guarded as I was bowled over by feelings. I was still struggling to figure out who I was and what I wanted and needed as an individual, especially considering the effects of those sexist ideas I’d been internalizing and the purity culture I was surrounded by my whole life.
It’s easy to see why so many relationships burn hot and fizzle out fast when we’re in young adulthood—in a lot of ways, we’re messier than we’ve ever been or will be again. Feelings, good and bad, are heightened. So much is constantly changing, in your mind and heart and in what’s happening around you, and it’s hard to make your feelings and changes compatible with another human’s. Probably the most surprising thing about my own slightly messy high school relationship is that it turned into my solid, adult, forever, meet-you-at-the-altar-next-month, true and lasting love.
It didn’t happen with total ease, and a lot of the biggest challenges revolved around me figuring out my own issues. In the end, the answers to my real-life YA romance problems were found in fiction. By falling in love with romance novels all over again—this time as an adult—I started to internalize new messages from the harmful ones I’d been struggling with for so long. These books showed me by example so many truths I now hold dear: that the voices putting gendered expectations on you are not ones you should listen to, that it isn’t shameful or dirty to want another person and act on that want, that women don’t exist to make others comfortable, that loving another person and letting yourself be loved by them is one of the most vulnerable, brave things you can do, and so much more.
In my debut novel Love from Scratch, main character Reese is facing a lot of the same internal battles that I had in my young adulthood, plus the external battles that come with being an ambitious young woman in a sexist environment. That she’s falling in love while she’s at it is icing on the cake.
With this book, I hope to join the ranks of stories and heroines that have helped me find my way through it all. I needed to read about girls trying to claim their own power and get the guy and watch them get their hard-earned happily-ever-afters, even as they fumbled and misstepped along the way, and I imagine there are others like me who need those books, too.
The paths of growing up and falling in love can be messier than anything my fictional chefs can stir up in the kitchen—but the end results are all the sweeter for it.