Bad Romance by Heather Demetrios
Publisher: Henry Holt and Co. (BYR)
Publication Date: June 13, 2017
Rating: 4 stars
Source: ARC sent by the publisher
Summary (from Goodreads):
Grace wants out. Out of her house, where her stepfather wields fear like a weapon and her mother makes her scrub imaginary dirt off the floors. Out of her California town, too small to contain her big city dreams. Out of her life, and into the role of Parisian artist, New York director—anything but scared and alone.
Enter Gavin: charming, talented, adored. Controlling. Dangerous. When Grace and Gavin fall in love, Grace is sure it's too good to be true. She has no idea their relationship will become a prison she's unable to escape.
Deeply affecting and unflinchingly honest, this is a story about spiraling into darkness—and emerging into the light again.
What I Liked:
Ignore my rating a little - it's so difficult to rate books like these, because they are so powerful and intense and meaningful. Tough-issue contemporary novels are difficult books to write, difficult books to read, difficult books to rate. That doesn't mean they can't be "bad" and you can't dislike them. In this book's case, it was wonderfully written and so, so heartbreaking, and I can't help but be in awe of the author for writing such a tragic, intense, and hopeful story. This is an excellent contemporary story dealing with an abusive relationship and negligence and cruelty of parents. I usually avoid tough-issue contemporary novels, but I loved this book and I'm so glad I told myself to try it.
The story starts with Grace telling the story from the beginning. She has a horrible home life - her mother and stepfather treat her like a slave, and she constantly has to give up social plans and homework time to do excessive chores and babysit her half-brother. She loves being in school, especially drama/theater class. especially since Gavin Davis is in the class. Gavin's girlfriend breaks up with him, and soon after, he and Grace start to hang out more. Grace has had a crush on him for forever, and she is thrilled with his attention. They fall in love hard and fast, and become inseparable. Even after he graduates from high school (he was a senior and she was a junior), they remain committed, as he goes to a state school nearby. But even from the start, little things start to happen that alarm Grace a little more each time. It takes Grace a year to realize that the relationship is a prison, and she'll need to escape before she, or someone else, gets hurt.
There are two big "issues" in this book - the abusive relationship, of course, and parents' treatment of Grace. I'll comment on the latter. Grace's mother is awful - she has OCD, and she makes Grace clean the house over and over. Grace is late to work, to school, to the SATs, but it doesn't matter to her mother, because all her mother seems to focus on is a tiny smudge, or whether the doors are locked, or if the curling iron was unplugged. Grace's mother is a terrible person, even without the OCD that constantly ruins Grace's life. Grace's stepfather (nicknamed the Giant, by Grace) is even worse. He is verbally abusive to Grace's mother. He starts making Grace pay weekly rent. He threatens to kick her out, and yells when she doesn't do her slave work.
Honestly, reading about this type of home life really makes me appreciate how good my home life was when I was seventeen years old (five years ago! Wow!). Even now, too. I don't have a stepparent (thank goodness. I know many stepparents are wonderful people, and many biological parents are awful, but I'm so grateful for MY parents, for the type of people they are), and I have no idea what I would do if either of my parents got remarried (if they were divorced). It's a situation that a child can't control - and this is so evident, in Grace's case. The Giant is a disgustingly cruel human being. He is verbally abusive (not sexually or physically abusive, thank goodness for that), and he is the type of person that deserves a very bad and lonely life in prison.
Same goes for Grace's mother. And Gavin.
Don't get me wrong, as much as I hated Grace's mother and stepfather, I loved how well Demetrios wrote their characters. My heart broke for Grace every time she interacted with either of them. Demetrious did such a good job of breaking down Grace's home life. It's awful and no child or adult should ever have to live like that.
And then there is the other side of the "tough issues" of this book - the relationship between Gavin and Grace. Gavin isn't an obvious psychotic person - he seems like a hot, charming rocker type who is in a band and also in theater. He's a smooth talker and knows how to manipulate just about anyone - Grace included. You wouldn't know that Gavin is a verbally abusive and manipulative boyfriend, if you weren't his girlfriend.
The jealousy, the possessiveness, the cutting remarks and occasional name-calling, the emotional manipulation - it was heartbreaking and so saddening to read. None of these things were obvious to Grace for much of the book. And even when she started to realize that there was something not right about their relationship, she kept forgiving him, or getting manipulated by him and getting sucked back in. This was so well-written by Demetrios. I wanted to scream at Grace every time she went back to Gavin - but at the same time, I totally understood. You know what I mean?
Demetrios nailed the progression of the bad romance, Gavin's instability, Grace's indecision. This story was so well-paced and well-written, as heartbreaking and intense as it was. I couldn't stop reading even as I wanted to break down and cry for Grace. Grace is so many girls and women in the world today, you know?
The romance is "bad" (obviously) - a harmful type of romance. But Demetrios builds it in such a way that at first, you'll swoon and fall in love too. If there is one that Demetrios always does well, in all of her books, it is a swoony romance. In this case, it's a swoony romance gone wrong. You're probably thinking, "ew Alyssa, why would you say that the romance is swoony?" But that's just it - just like Grace, you'd never know that Gavin is abusive. You'd think that these two are the cutest couple.
I have to say, I a d o r e d the friendship between Grace and her best friends Natalie and Alyssa (yay, fellow Alyssa!). Natalie and Alyssa are so solid, supportive, kickbutt, and awesome. There is no girl drama or catfighting in this book, as many YA books often feature (pitting friends against each other in some way). The girls support Grace even as they warn her away from Gavin and tell her how they feel about him and how he treats Grace. The powerful female friendship in this book makes this book even stronger. I loved seeing this healthy relationship between the three girls, especially given how broken Grace's relationships with so many others were.
You may be wondering, is there another romance in this book? A healthier one? Does Grace find true love with someone else? I'll let you find out when you read the book. This book focuses on Grace and Gavin's romance, and I'll leave it at that.
The ending is very, very uplifting. I was so glad to see Grace stand up with two feet on the ground, and move forward, and never look back. There is a HEA in this book, though the story doesn't lend itself to one. I was a huge fan of the ending.
On a bit of a side note, I'm just going to say it - I loved that religion was a somewhat large part of this story. Natalie is Christian and devotedly so - honestly I feel like she is a carbon copy of me (dresses conservatively, doesn't curse, etc.). YA books tend to not include any mention of religion, which doesn't really bother me, but I liked seeing religion portrayed as a very positive aspect of Natalie's life. And I loved how respectful Grace was, and Alyssa too.
Bad Romance is an intense and heartbreaking story, one that I wouldn't read under usual circumstances. I'm a huge fan of Heather Demetrios's books, so I knew I was going to try this one, even if it was out of my comfort zone. This book is one that makes you think, one that makes you appreciate what you have, one that makes you angry for the women who go through these situations.
What I Did Not Like:
I have no dislikes to state, but for anyone looking for trigger warnings: note that this book has verbal abuse, some physical abuse (by Grace's mom), a very manipulative relationship (Grace and Gavin), and a scene of non-consent between Grace and Gavin.
Would I Recommend It:
I highly recommend this book to any girl, any woman, any reader, really. But especially to all the young women out there. Sometimes it's hard to get up and say no, and walk away. I'm sure many of us know a woman who struggled and maybe is still struggling in an abusive and manipulative relationship of some sort. This isn't my usual type of read as I tend to avoid YA contemporary, but I'm glad I read it. There are so many lessons to be learned from the book. The most important, to me, is to love yourself and stand up for yourself.
4.5 stars. This book was an excellent read. I don't know if I have the heart to reread it (hence the 4-star rating - 5 stars, to me, are reserved for new favorites that I want to reread over and over). But this book will have a place in my heart. I loved Demetrios's Dark Caravan Cycle series (Exquisite Captive, Blood Passage, Freedom's Slave), and I'm happy to say that I loved this book too.
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