A book that has been very, very incorrectly filed under romance.
Plot: Lily grew up in a violent household, but now she’s out in the world as a young adult, trying to create a life that is her own, and as different from her youth as possible. By chance she meets a good looking doctor in training and despite his initial aversion to relationships, is suddenly all in. Then there’s her first love, a boy who had escaped an abusive household himself, to live on the streets instead, but he’s been out of the picture for almost a decade. So might as well go all in on this new guy. Sure, he has an uneven temperament and a flare for the dramatic, but what’s the worst that could happen? Absolutely fucking awful shenanigans ensue.
I find it offensive that any novel written by a woman that has a romantic element is dumped under the romance category. This book is, by design, absolutely not a romance. I know you’re looking at the description and thinking – surely it is, but it isn’t. So let’s start with the trigger warnings – this book is about domestic violence. I try to avoid spoilers but the subject matter here is so delicate, and the way it is handled is so visceral, that I think it is very important to make that as clear as possible from the outset. You will see numerous, detailed, prolonged descriptions of domestic violence of every variation. This book also includes mentions of suicidal ideation and child abuse.
With respect to how the matter is handled, I’m of two minds. The intent of this book is clearly to help readers empathize with survivors of domestic violence, to better understand how these situations can evolve and how otherwise self-possessed people find themselves effectively participating in their own victimization. Goodreads tells me Hoover has been quite effective in this. Reviews consistently speak about precisely this, and I think anything that achieves this must be a net good.
At the same time, I am powerfully disappointed by this book. The first half of the book really does read like a romance novel, down to common tropes which are, in the real world, huge, huge red flags. I thought – well this is clever. Hoover is using these tropes to lure the reader in and making them reconsider whether these Big Gesture type actions society has taught us are romantic are in fact ways society has trained us from a young age to interpret abusive behaviour as passionate and loving.
But nope. That was not the plan at all. For all the time this book spends pondering how someone might fall into an abusive relationship, these is absolutely zero introspection about how we, as a society, not only fail people in these situations, but set them up for it. I experienced zero surprise when our Hero turned out to be a shit. All the signs were there, but it seems like even the author who put them there didn’t spot them. And that’s really fucking depressing.