Wednesday, May 18, 2011

Review: Bitter End by Jennifer Brown

Jennifer Brown's debut novel, Hate List, remains one of my favorite contemporary YA novels, and so I was anxiously awaiting her follow-up, Bitter End. Bitter End is certainly a lot different because it's about the devastating pain a single person faces in a relationship, and yet it's also similar to Hate List in that Brown tries to show us the way a relationship ultimately deemed BAD by the outside can at times feel good on the inside.

Alex's mother died when she was young and her dad checked out awhile ago. The closeness she used to share with her sisters is gone, but she does have two friends she's really close with and the three of them have planned a trip to Colorado for ages because that's the last place Alex's mother felt whole before she died. But Alex meets a new boy at school, Cole. Cole is really hot and best of all he's also really into her. They start dating and Alex is really happy. But Cole turns out to be really jealous and slowly starts isolating her from her other friends, he becomes physically violent, and soon Alex has to decide if Cole is ever really going to change or if she can get out the relationship.

This is the second book about an abusive relationship I've read this spring, and while Bitter End is about physical violence and Stay was about emotional abuse, they have some similarities. I think this is a really difficult subject to write about because we all sort of have Lifetime movies versions of domestic violence in our heads. And also, we live in a society that doesn't actually acknowledge much beyond, hitting your girlfriend/wife is bad, you shouldn't let a man treat you that way.

In fact, I was recently reading that women find it very hard to leave abusive relationships and acknowledge that they are IN one because women feel like they are supposed to be strong now and be smarter than letting that happen to them. I think Bitter End touched on this a bit. When Cole first hurts Alex, she absolutely refuses to acknowledge it's abuse. She knows in her head that's exactly what's happened, but it's such a shock to her. This is her relationship and she can't believe it's happening to them. I just found this so realistic and heartbreaking, that feeling when you know that you've isolated yourself from your friends and invested so much in a relationship and it is a sinking ship--it can't last, and yet you hang on. I found this scene, where Alex moves from disbelief to anger to desperation to hold onto Cole to be one of the best in the book.

Alex and Cole's relationship is not all bad. There are ways in which Cole demonstrates his love for Alex in a way she feels no one has cared for her before. I think this is so important, because even the other day in my post about abuse and Gossip Girl someone left a comment that there's no love in abusive relationships, and it's just not true.

If I had one complaint, it would be that it was hard for me to buy Cole as romantic. Brown shows some of his warning signs up front and so I was less invested. I knew what the book was about, therefore I didn't feel the same things as Alex felt them. Having said that, I still really felt for Alex a lot and found Bitter End to be emotionally honest and true.

Rating: 4.5/5
Things You Might Want to Know: Profanity
Source of Book: ARC received from publisher
Publisher: Little, Brown


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