• Interviews
  • The Lonely Soldier
  • The Opposite of Love
  • The Sailor's Wife
  • Essays
  • Why Soldiers Rape
  • For Women Warriors, Deep Wounds, Little Care
  • The Private War of Women Soldiers
  • Fiction vs. Nonfiction: Wherein Lies the Truth
  • The Frightened Muse
  • Racism Railroaded Justice in Jogger Rape
  • The Plight of Women Soldiers
  • The Scandal of Military Rape
  • Violent Veterans, The Big Picture
  • How to Lie with Statistics
  • Betrayal in the Field
  • When Johnny Comes Marching In
  • Women at War Face Sexual Violence

Author Interview about The Opposite of Love


Where are you from and has that affected your writing?
H.B.: I was born in England, but because my parents were American anthropologists, I moved around a lot. I grew up I London and various islands near Africa. This has given me a life-long affinity with outsiders, and the poor and forgotten. This tends to come out in my books, including The Opposite of Love.

When and why did you begin writing?
H.B.: I began writing at eight years old, when I filled several school exercise books with my first "novel," which I called "The Tiny Adventurer." As I’m only 5 foot 2 inches, that kind of describes me. I’ve been writing ever since.

What books have most influenced your life?
H.B.: I read all the time as a child, but the books that made me most want to write were the Narnia books by C.S. Lewis, and Jane Eyre by Charlotte Bronte. As an adult, I have been particularly inspired by George Eliot, Leo Tolstoy, Emile Zola, Virginia Woolf and James Baldwin: all writers with heart and passion.

Who did you write the book for?
H.B.: I’ve written The Opposite of Love to appeal to teenagers and adults of both sexes. Every adult has been 17, and every teenager knows what it means to feel like an outsider. And all of us struggle with what it means to do good in the world.

What themes do you develop in the book?
H.B.: One theme I explore is how a person of mixed race or nationality can forge an identity in America, which is so racially divided in so many ways. Another is whether taking the law into your own hands to save someone can ever be justified. A third theme is how complicated and difficult it is to be a teenage parent.

What gave you the idea for the book?
H.B.: I got the idea for The Opposite of Love by writing a sequel to my first novel, A World Like This. The heroine of that novel, Brandy, is the mother of Madge, my new heroine. In my first novel, Brandy is 17. In The Opposite of Love, her daughter is 17. I like the idea of following generations in fiction because then the characters I create become as real to me (and I hope to the reader) as friends. It also gives the reader a sense of history. Emile Zola wrote over 20 novels about generations of the same family. I’d love to do that!

Why did you choose to write in the voice of an interracial girl when you are white?
H.B.: The reason I chose to write about a girl of a different race than myself is because I think we all learn a lot about the world by imagining what it's like to be someone else. I have always explored that in my writing. A World Like This entered the life of a teenage convict, and Bad Angel concerned a teenage mother from the Dominican Republic. The great pleasure of reading and writing is to be able to leave your own skin and your own world and enter somebody else’s. It is also what teaches us empathy instead of prejudice.

Without giving away the end of the book, I’ll say that Madge faces a tough decision. Did you struggle with which choice she should make?
H.B.: I always write so that the choices my characters have to make are as difficult for me as they are for them.

Although your book Bad Angel crossed over to teen readers, this is your first book written specifically for a YA audience. How did writing for teens differ from writing for adults?
H.B.: The main difference was keeping the book all in Madge’s voice. In Bad Angel, I alternated between the voices of two teenagers and one adult. But teenagers are sophisticated, and I respect them as readers just as much as I do adults.

How does your role as a journalist figure into your novel writing? Is the process of researching and writing an article different from the process of researching and writing a novel?
H.B.: I consider myself a novelist who knows how to do research, rather than a journalist. Fiction was always my first love. But writing and researching fiction and nonfiction are wildly different. With fiction, you let your imagination roam free first, then fill in the research later so it doesn’t cramp the story. With nonfiction, you do the research first then cobble it together into a story. Writing fiction is like dreaming, writing nonfiction is like putting together a very complicated puzzle.

Brandy and Madge’s aunt, Liz, are British. How do you think that affects the book, if at all?
H.B.: Everybody in the book is an outsider of a sort. But most people feel like outsiders sometimes, which is why I like to write about immigrants and oddballs. I feel it speaks to a certain solitude we all feel deep inside. As much as we like to connect to others, we are alone within our skins. This can be sad, and it can be wonderful, and the tension between those two things is the stuff of fiction.
The Opposite Of Love