Merry Wanderer of the Night  + [YA]

Review: Bitter End by Jennifer Brown

Bitter End by Jennifer Brown is one of those stories that I think needs to be read by teenage girls. If you look up statistics for teen dating violence, your heart just breaks. There are so many sites with statistics gathered from surveys and studies and all of them are tragic. Books like Bitter End are important, because it gives young people a 'safe' place to learn about dating violence. Knowing the warning signs is an incredibly important part of keeping yourself out of a bad situation.

Alex doesn't have the perfect life, but she is, for the most part, happy. Her mother died when she was young, during a seemingly mindless attempt to leave for Colorado. Her father has almost completely shut down and refuses to talk about any of the 'tough' stuff. He mostly leaves Alex and her sisters alone, focusing on his own issues. This is really hard on Alex. She feels the hole her mother left deeply and desperately needs to understand why her mom would walk away, but doesn't have anywhere to turn to for answers. So, she decided a long time ago that she was going to go to Colorado after graduation and her two best friends decided they would go with her. Alex, Beth and Zach have been best friends for years and years. Referred to by parents as the three headed monster, they've been pretty much inseparable for years.

These three just click. They understand each other, love each other and would do anything for each other. They are the very best kind of friends to have. But there's nothing romantic between any of them, and they are at that stage when romantic relationships are wonderful and good and desirable. When Cole transfers to their school and is assigned to Alex for tutoring, it's like fate. He's super good looking, into sports, smart, funny, such a gentleman, but best of all? He's really into Alex. He makes her feel beautiful, loved and amazing and she soon finds herself caught up in the magic that Cole spins for her.

But it doesn't take long for that magical feeling to go a little sour. It's small things at first, things that in moderation might seem cute or romantic, but quickly become creepy and stalkerish. Like sitting at a booth in the cafe where Alex works until her shift ends. When it's only the last 30 or 40 minutes, that's kind of cute. But when he sits there, watching you for your whole entire shift? Not cute. Not cute at all. Cole also really dislikes Zach, and he especially hates it when Alex spends time with him. He's convinced Zach is in love with Alex and that she is going to cheat on him with Zach and he does everything he can to make that relationship uncomfortable, which severely strains her relationship with Beth also, until he finally gets to the point where he has pulled Alex almost completely away from the rock solid support system Zach and Beth have to offer.

There are so many moments to this story where your cringe for Alex. Where you just want to cry out and tell her to get herself out of there. But Brown wrote this story incredibly well. Cole is Mr. Perfect in the beginning of the story. He knows all the right things to say, has all sorts of romantic gestures down pat and he just seems to be amazing. In fact, if I hadn't known going into this book that it was about an abusive relationship, I think I might have been taken in by his charm. But pretty quickly the thinly veiled insults start piling up on top of his jealous and controlling demands and his monopolizing all her time. It becomes clear to us that there is something seriously wrong much sooner than it does to Alex.

Alex does start to realize that things are not as they should be, but by then, she feels like she's gone too far. She has two things against her at this point. One is that she has never thought she would become 'that girl', the one who let her boyfriend beat her, but stayed with him anyway. She didn't want people to know that she had let things get to that point, so she stays, because she's embarrassed to leave. And the other thing? Cole loves her. He is the first person in her memories to tell her that she is loved and she desperately needs to feel that right now. That declaration of love went straight through to Alex and tied her to Cole completely. He loves her, she loves him and the rest can be worked out in time. She makes excuses for him — He just needs to work out his anger. I just need to stop being around Zach, since it makes him angry. His dad beats his mom, so it's all that he knows. Etc and etc.

But, as is always the case with relationships like this, things continue to escalate and they really never get better on their own.

I meant it when I said that this book, and the others on the market like it are so important for everyone to read, but especially young girls. They teach us what the warning signs of an abuser are so that we can protect ourselves before it gets to the point of violence, it lets people in an abusive relationship know that it is not their fault, that nothing they do is going to change their abuser and they need to leave, and that there is always hope, that getting help is not a weakness but a strength, and it also teaches compassion to those who have not been in this situation. It is too easy to look and judge and say, Well why didn't you just leave him?! But unless we try to understand the situation from the inside, we do no help to those struggling to free themselves. It's so easy to say just leave, but the actual leaving is an entirely different matter. And it's hard.

Read this book. Read the other books out there on the same subject. Learn all you can to protect yourself, to protect others, and to learn compassion, love and understanding so that you really can be there if you are needed. Books like this are so important to our teenagers and I'm so glad that there are more of them being written.

*Disclaimer: I received a copy of this for review from a traveling ARC tour through the Teen Book Scene.