Eating Disorder (bulimia), Self-Harm (cutting), Domestic Abuse, Mental Health (Anxiety, Panic Attacks), Drug Use/Abuse
Queer (Lesbian couple), Anxiety Rep (possibly depression as well)
Disclaimer: I voluntarily read and reviewed a copy of this book. All thoughts and opinions are my own. Thank you to Netgalley, Alyssa Sheinwel, and Sourcebooks Fire for this free copy. All quotes in this review are taken from the Advanced Reader Copy and may change in final publication.
Not only was this book a Ready Reads Recommendation from my public library, but I also received a copy from Netgalley. I seriously need to catch up on my Netgalley reviews! This is embarrassing.
I finished this book about a couple of days ago, so while it should still be fresh in my mind, I’ll do my best to write up a decent review. Here goes!
Also, keep in mind that the names of the girls in the book are considered spoilers, so I’ll have to be pretty vague about who I’m talking about.
From the moment I read this book’s synopsis, I knew that I was going to be in for a ride. Domestic abuse is somewhat of a trigger of mine, and it gets even worse when people don’t want to believe the victim because the abuser is a “golden” kid. It kills me that this ends up being a popular thought among bystanders, and I hate that I feel like I probably would have done the same if I was younger and this happened in my own high school – or if it was reported… since I don’t remember hearing about an incident but that doesn’t mean there wasn’t one.
Looking at the cover, I was curious to see how the opinions of each “kind” of girl in regards to what happened. It also made me wonder who was going to be on the believing side versus the skeptical side. So I knew that I was going to have some strong opinions about this book no matter what happened.
Forgive Yourself for Not Leaving Earlier
Mike Parker’s girlfriend went to the principal office on Monday morning, sporting a black eye from when Mike slapped her on the weekend. She didn’t know why she went to the principal’s office, or why she even reported it, but she believed that a part of her wanted the principal to make it stop. What happens next is what usually happens: people seeing her black eye in school, the rumor mill going on about if it’s true, was it really Mike because “he’s such a good guy?”, why didn’t she leave when he first hit her months ago?… Stuff like that.
Hearing what people have to say about her makes her wonder what kind of girl she has to be to stay with someone who has hit her and hurt her before. Why didn’t she say anything the first time? Did she really want to report him? Did she ruin his life? If the Board of Trustees votes to expel him, he could lose his scholarship… but is that more important than her well-being? There comes a point in the novel where she feels like it was her fault for not getting out sooner, and that if she really thought what he was doing was wrong, then she wouldn’t have continued to stay and love him like she did.
Both the inner monologue of this girl and the outside commentary from the rest of the school plays a huge part in this thinking, and that’s no surprise. But no matter what others think, and even if they can’t believe something because they thought the abuser was just a great guy in public, SHE has to be the one to forgive herself. It wasn’t her fault that she still loved him even after the first time, and it shouldn’t be her fault. No matter what she did or didn’t do, she did not deserve to be abused in any capacity.
You Can Be Multiple Kinds of Girls at Once
Look at the descriptions on the cover: the activist, the burnout, the bulimic, etc. Can you truly judge someone by one thing alone? Can you truly claim to know someone as only “the activist” without knowing everything about that person? Why put them in a box and not allow this person to choose who they are and what they want to be, flaws and all? Sometimes it just takes a little self-reflection – and sometimes professional help – to understand one’s self, and to learn all the facets that make them the person they are today.
Just a little thought before reading the novel…
I wish I could get more into the development without spoilers but that seems a little too difficult. Or at least, I haven’t figured out a way to do so. I guess one thing I could say is that despite how everything started in the beginning, by the time the novel was over, I was slightly more reassured that these characters would be okay. I felt like they learned so much about themselves and one another, and were able to make a decision on what is or isn’t right in their eyes.
I was more inclined to root for the characters when the novel ended, if that makes sense.
I’ve mentioned this in my Instagram post while I was reading the novel, but to reiterate, I was going through a few emotions while I was reading this. I was angry by what happened to the girlfriend and by the gaslighting and manipulation that Mike did to her. I was frustrated that she would start to doubt herself after being gaslight and hearing what her peers had to say about her behind her back. I was worried because of the cutting and the bulimia, knowing that while these girls knew it wasn’t the best thing to do, that was the only thing that seemed to ease their pain. I was hopeful when the girls finally shared everything with one another, and found that even though they weren’t in each others lives as much as before, it didn’t mean their friendship was hurt or broken.
I know I said angry before, but I was really, really angry when I read the opinions of others, especially those that made the girlfriend feel like it was her fault that she was hit, and that she had to have been mistaken on WHO hit her or that it had to have been a misunderstanding. I was angry at the girls that victim blamed rather than supported their classmate. I was angry at the boys that pressured the girlfriend to take it back, so that their friend Mike could have a future again. I know that this was the point of the book, and this kind of dialogue has been happening and still happens in our world today. Nothing in this book was outlandish to me, or something that I couldn’t believe would happen; it was very much accurate to the current commentary. I guess it made me angry because like I mentioned, this kind of thing STILL happens, and people are still prone to victim blaming or second guessing a victim’s report. It makes other victims not want to speak up out of fear that they won’t be believed or worse, and I understand that. I wish it wasn’t the case.
The narration choice that Sheinwel has in this novel works well to tell a story from multiple points of view. It also seems like each chapter takes place either during or right after the previous chapter, and we are able to get a good idea of where everyone is at roughly around the same time. I listened to the audiobook, and it made it easier for me to tell the difference between the different narrators. Yes, the way that the narrator changed her voice for each one helped, but even if I wasn’t paying attention to who was talking, I could tell who it was based on previous chapters. If that makes sense? It makes sense in my head. There wasn’t anything super special about it, but that’s not an issue here. It worked just fine with the plot and what it needed to do for this story.
I’ll remind you again that if any of the above trigger warnings are an issue for you, I would skip this novel or read it when you’re able to deal with the content in a healthy way. This was a great example of having a nuanced conversation about domestic violence and self harm. Characters weren’t misguided by others thinking that getting rid of these negative aspects will suddenly make life better. They were also encouraged to speak to a professional or even join support groups to help them process their trauma. This novel also didn’t romanticize either of the difficult topics involved, which is really important to me when I read a story. While I don’t know if I could handle reading this again in the near future, I would recommend it to those that want to read more novels that deal with mental health.
These reviews are from Goodreads, since I didn’t really see many in the blogosphere. There’s a lot more to see on the Goodreads page as well.
Another review done! Let’s see which one I will end up writing next. Probably Jade City since I’m nearly done with that, or I may try to do short reviews on some of the books I read earlier in the year that I didn’t write about. Although I’m thinking I may need a refresher of what I was thinking so that my review actually reflects my thoughts lol. We will see!