But I Love Him by Amanda Grace is a novel that really caught my attention. It's a story about an abusive relationship, which we've been seeing a lot of lately, but the telling of the story is something completely different than what I've seen before. The story is told in reverse chronology. It starts exactly one year after the day they met, with Connor doing some serious damage to Ann and walking out of their apartment, leaving Ann beaten and bloody, trying to decide if this is the moment he's gone too far and it takes us back in time, ending with how they met.
I was really intrigued by the idea of the reverse chronology, but was unsure how it would actually work. But it does. The book is basically told in a series of individual stories, snapshots of various days in their relationship, both good and bad. We see the nice things Connor does to show Ann he loves her and then we see the problem of the day before he was making up for. And interspersed throughout these stories of the past, the present day is still happening and every so often, we get another chapter, get to see more of what is happening now. Ann is bleeding on the floor, surrounding by the pieces of her heart (literally and figuratively, since the image on the cover is completely relevant to the book) and she recognizes that she needs to make some decisions about her life.
Because of the way the story was told, I didn't connect to it the way I have to others and most of the book lacked the urgency of a novel with this subject matter. I was never afraid that Connor was going to go too far, because he already had. And I was never worried about what he might do to her, because we had already seen the after, before we got to the before. But the layout of the book was brilliance. Grace mentioned that she wrote this book because people have a tendency to judge the victims of domestic abuse — why don't you just leave? How could you put up with that? Why didn't you just walk away when he hit you? How could you not see that he's such a jerk? and she took that away from us. We can't pick the place we would have walked away if we are seeing it from the end, because we don't know what's happened yet.
I also don't know that I fully believed the actual nature of their relationship. Connor is domineering and controlling and gets really angry a lot but for some reason, I was never nervous for her physically. Which is weird, considering she starts the book completely battered. But Connor went from a single punch or slap to an all out beating and that just doesn't really seem... normal, I guess.
But, in my opinion, the strongest part of this book was the emotional state of Ann. Even when nothing else was completely believable, I felt very strongly, several times, that Ann's reflections on her life and her self were spot on. She gave us insight into what it's like to be in a situation like that, her thoughts broke my heart more than a few times as she sat on the floor of her apartment, trying to make a choice that will determine the course of the rest of her life. I don't normally use quotes in my review, but there is one line that shows how she's thinking and feeling as well as what thousands of others in her situation had to have felt when they become introspective-
It happened in pieces, tiny little turning points. I'll never figure out when it all turned, because it wasn't a single moment. It doesn't matter how many times I look back, how many times I try to figure it out. There is no before and after. Just a year of choices.I feel like this quote encapsules what Grace is trying to teach or accomplish with this book. A glimpse into the life of a person that is usually filled with judgment for both people involved and she's trying to show that it isn't that simple. Life is never easy and we should avoid trying to judge others choices based on our own lives. It's not a fair assessment.
This isn't the best book around an abusive relationship I've ever read, but it is incredibly unique and I feel that it is one that has a good message and intent, even if the full impact isn't quite there, I do think that it's a novel that deserves to be read. I think that this is a novel that everyone will view differently. All books are colored by our own personal experiences, but I feel like this one is very much one that will change drastically based around your life experiences. I haven't known very many people who have been through something like this so I don't know how it relates to someone who has, but even if it's not the strongest example of this story line, it is one that you should watch for. I know I'm interested to see if there will be more by the Grace nomer of Mandy Hubbard.