Author: Heather Demetrios
Genre: YA Comtemporary
It’s easy to judge someone for being in an abusive relationship and that judgement is usually tagged along with the age-old question, “Why doesn’t she just leave him?” If someone is hurting you physically and verbally isn’t the obvious solution to just leave them right away? Just say the words, right? But as this book deftly illustrates, it is neither easy or simple.
Grace Carter doesn’t have the best life. She lives with a cruel and demanding stepfather and a mother who pours all the housework and chores on her. All she wants to do is get out of Birch Grove, California and do theater in New York. Gavin is the ultimate dream boy. He is an angsty teenage boy who plays the guitar. He’s popular and charismatic. Grace has had an unrequited crush on him for 3 years and he has never noticed her before until one day. What starts as a passionate and sweet relationship spirals into a relationship unhealthy, obsessive, and claustrophobic.
What I appreciate most about this story’s structure besides its crafty use of the second person is its deliberate slowness. Demetrios really paints a detailed picture to helping you understand why Grace would fall in love with someone like Gavin even as you know from the very beginning how the relationship will end. The eventual deterioration of the relationship was perfectly paced. What is so poignant is how Demetrios sets up the relationship because it starts off like any other happy and healthy relationship. Gavin is sweet and dotes on Grace. He writes songs about how much he loves her. He is emotionally and physically supportive of her when things at home are too overwhelming. He makes sacrifices for her. Demetrios captures that euphoria of being in a new relationship when everything feels fresh and new and full of love and possibility. When the sweet nothings feel even sweeter and every compliment makes you feel like you’re on cloud 9. So it’s understandable when the first red flags come Grace does not even notice them especially when they are wrapped under the guise of toxic manipulation. The progression of the relationship really shows how Grace, someone who has big dreams and a sense of individualism can ultimately give all those up for a relationship. With the psychological effects of her home, there is no doubt there was something so intoxicating about Gavin needing her but the even more intoxicating feeling of Gavin wanting her. A person who has, her whole life, never felt wanted.
What makes this book so much more real than other books about abusive relationships is how Demetrios portrays Grace’s self-awareness of her toxic situation juxtaposed with her utter ignorance and denial of Gavin’s bright red flags. The most recent book I’ve read about an abusive relationship is It Ends With Us by Colleen Hoover which I thought failed to examine the nuances of a relationship like this. I get what she was trying to do but it was not enough. It is possible to love someone but know that they are toxic for you but Hoover made it black and white, that you can just leave him if you set your mind to it. It’s about resolve. But Demetrios knows it’s about more than resolving to break up with him. Grace knows she should break up with Gavin and resolves many times to do so but she always ends up making excuses for him or Gavin will end up manipulating her love for him and she would get sucked back in time and time again. This constant cycle of denial and resolve, resolve and denial is exactly the cycle that abusive relationships go in, feeding through the doubts and insecurities of both participants. The reader sees how the love and sacrifice that Gavin demonstrates for her at the beginning of the relationship is now used as a shackle to rein her in. You know precisely how Gavin is manipulating her yet you understand how Grace would be confused by this manipulation and ultimately Gavin himself thinks he is doing the best for her even when he so clearly isn’t. This reflects on the cyclical nature of abuse, further emphasized by Grace’s mother who also is in an abusive relationship that Grace herself constantly laments is abusive while she is her relationship with Gavin. How can someone who is continuing to witness the abusive relationship of a loved one be completely oblivious to the fact that she’s in one herself?
On a side note, as with most YA contemporary I’ve read, there’s always the issue of how well integrated the side characters. And although Demetrios does not go into their characters in depth, it is clear they feel lived in and not just used as plot devices for specific parts of the Grace’s journey. Grace’s two best friends provide much needed comic relief and are the supportive friends you would want yourself. Even her cruel stepfather is offered moments of humanity that don’t turn him into an evil machine for the sole purpose of making Grace’s life miserable (although I’m sure in Grace’s situation it feels like it a lot). His role extends to her mother and how that affects Grace in turn.
I am fully impressed with Demetrios’s writing and although I can see how her writing could spiral into YA contemporary cliches like in I’ll Meet You There, I think if she writes more YA contemporary realistic, I am most definitely on board. The way she writes psychological progression and nuanced feelings made concrete to a T is something I truly admired. The use of the second person, as if Grace was addressing Gavin in a letter, makes you feel the impending doom of their relationship, the mix of blunt sarcasm and irony tinged with real sadness.
I highly recommend this book for its subject matter but also the deft way it is handled with all of its nuances.
On another side note, I’m back (!) which I’ll explain more in another post but I do plan on posting at least once a week from now on.