Author Karen Gregory explains why she tackles ‘difficult’ topics in her books

Her latest book, 'I Hold Your Heart', explores a toxic and gaslighting teenage relationship.

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This post was sponsored by Bloomsbury and written by Karen Gregory, author of ‘I Hold Your Heart’.

I was recently asked why I write about the subjects in my books. Why choose such seemingly ‘difficult’ topics and write about them for a teenage audience? There are so many answers to that question, from the very simple: this is what comes to me and so I write it, to the less personal: teenagers have a myriad of experiences, not all of them good, and some people want – or need – to read about these in novels.

‘I Hold Your Heart’ explores a toxic and gaslighting relationship from the point of view of sixteen-year-old Gemma, and her boyfriend Aaron. It is a dual narrative, so while it is very much Gemma’s story, there are also a number of passages from Aaron’s perspective. I also chose to write in present-tense and so the relationship unfolds in real-time over the book. The reader experiences what Gemma – and, to a lesser extent, Aaron – experience. There are some difficult scenes, including one of sexual consent. Is this too much for a teen reader to handle? To explore this, I think it’s helpful to think about the reality of some teenagers’ lived experience.

Each reader is an individual and will bring different levels of emotional maturity, resilience, understanding, and experience to the books they read.

One in four women will experience domestic abuse over her lifetime, and teenagers are particularly vulnerable to coercive control and emotional abuse within relationships. Therefore, to me, it felt absolutely right to explore this within the novel in a sensitive and thoughtful way, given how many young people will be experiencing this type of incredibly damaging relationship right now, or know of others who are.

Each reader is an individual and will bring different levels of emotional maturity, resilience, understanding, and experience to the books they read. I take a huge amount of care to ensure my books include enough detail to be emotionally authentic while steering away from anything gratuitous. It is a fine line to walk as an author of books for young adults, but one I am supported well in by my editor, the extraordinary Hannah Sandford at Bloomsbury. It’s also one that readers seem to feel I tread well, in ways that speak to them.

It’s important to me that I don’t shy away from the difficult themes.

I have lost count of the number of times I have been contacted by readers who saw themselves, or their friend or family member in one of my books, and felt comforted and seen. They felt validated in terms of the emotions and confusion they have experienced or felt more empathy for others. ‘I Hold Your Heart’ has been no exception to this.



For me, my books are not ‘issues’ books, or even necessarily ‘difficult’ ones. They do look into some dark places at times, but as outlined above, given the likelihood that gaslighting and emotional abuse will touch all of us over the course of our lives, it’s important to me that I don’t shy away from the difficult themes. Being able to explore them in fictionalised form, in books which are well-researched, carefully written and concerned first and foremost with different kinds of love and hope can be helpful for a teen reader and might let them know they’re not walking alone.

To order your own copy of Karen Gregory’s ‘I Hold Your Heart’, click here.

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