4.5 – 5 stars.
Whoa. Whoa. Whoa.
This book did a number on me.
It addressed a tough, intense, gritty subject matter in an evocative, well-written way.
It was gutsy, controversial, and painful at times but also, raw, honest, and in the end, beautiful.
This is not a story I’ll ever forget.
I feel the need to put a bit a warning at the front of the review that contains a bit of a spoiler, but I honestly wouldn’t feel comfortable reviewing this book without being upfront about it. This won’t spoil the story, or give away any of the twists because the issue is addressed in the first 5% of the book but you should know the following before reading this book: This book contains an intense rape scene. It was a graphic, but not “over-done”, written from the POV of the victim, and I’m not going to lie that it left me feeling shaken.
Without giving too much away, the set up of the book (and you discover this at about 6% in) is that the heroine, Brooke’s best friend Beth was raped in high school but she felt unable to come forward publicly with an accusation. She kept it to herself and that coupled with other emotional hits in her life drove her to commit suicide. Brooke is left feeling guilty for not having protected her in the first place. So when mom moves away, she decides to go live with her dad and spend her senior year at Beth’s high school with the hopes of being the voice of the victim and willing to go to any lengths to bring down the guy who destroyed her best friend’s life. Her plan is to lure Beth’s rapist, Cal, (one of the “popular” guys ) into raping her so that she can them come forward with a statement and put him away for good where he can no longer hurt anyone.
“A righteous anger flared in me immediately, and just like that, I discovered a purpose. My purpose. It flooded me instantly, a great wave slamming into my mind and my heart, carrying with it the courage and conviction of my newly formed plan… And I transformed into the predator. He just didn’t know it yet. He thought I was the prey, and I’d let him.”
But the deeper she digs, the thicker the plot gets. She overheard Cal and his friends and discovers that they have a twisted sex club with with charts, scoreboards and tasks all involving getting various girls at the school in bed or on their knees. To make matters worse, they are willing to go to any lengths including drugging the girls to get their points and she soon discovers a whole trail of girls who were once happy and full of life and but were now missing that light in their eyes. And what she wasn’t counting on that only made matters more complicated was Ryan, the beautiful guy she meets at school who was swoony and thought the world of her but was also very mysterious and clearly hiding some dark secret of his own.
I’ll leave you at that. The rest of the story you can discover if you choose to read this, which, if you can handle the subject matter, I do encourage you too.
Interestingly though, despite the heavy subject matter, this is not a dark book. It takes place in high school and definitely has a measure sweetness to it.
Brooke is very much the center of this story. She was a smart, strong and sassy heroine who was also fragile, hurting and emotionally cut up on the inside. She felt very real. She messed up, had fears, insecurities, nightmares and more but deep down she was tough as nails and willing to go to any lengths for her friend.
I had so many questions about Ryan! He was so quiet and mysterious, not to mention just plain hot. I loved how he made her feel like she was the only girl in the world and yet didn’t ask for anything in return. But the mystery around him was thick. I wanted to know more about him and my mind kept running through all sorts of theories behind his secrecy.
“Why are you so mysterious?” …
“Look, you probably don’t want to be associated with me at school, okay?… I guess I’m a bit of a pariah. And I don’t mind. I just don’t wanna drag you down.”
I looked at him, astonished. “Okay. You just upped the mysterious factor by a trillion.”
I know for a solid fact that abuse happens more often than people realize in schools. It has happened to someone I know and it has happened to thousands of others. I thought this book did a great job of highlighting that. Of showing how easy it was for the monsters to hide in plain sight and cover their tracks. And of how chillingly normal everything could look on the surface.
“He didn’t seem like a predator… I realized I needed to look at evil in an entirely new light. Most bad guys weren’t running around with eyes bugged out. Most bad guys didn’t come across freaky and frightening…Most bad guys were normal, everyday guys moving through life like anyone else… They were hard to spot and that’s what made them so good at being bad… They could get away with it, and they knew it.”
I got totally lost in this story. In both the morbid fascination mixed with extreme fear to see how Brooke’s story line with Cal would play out as well as totally lost in the swoon of her and Ryan.
It’s one of those books that has you almost crying in one moment and then laughing out loud the next.
I loved this quote. Brooke loves to paint and while this quote is about her painting, I really felt that it represented the book as a whole:
“You think you know what to expect. You think you have it all planned out. But something in you always surprises you, and it’s a buzzing undercurrent that keeps you silently guessing until your picture is complete.”
The character dynamics and relationships were all brilliant. Brooke and her friend Gretchen – hilarious, bonded BFFs. Brooke and Call – creepy as all hell and deeply chilling. Brooke and Ryan – hot, mysterious, swoony, gorgeous. Brooke and her dad – sweet, touching, healing… the list goes on.
Now, I need to address the issue of rape in this book. The first thing to note is that it was handled in a very realistic manner. It was graphic and chilling. But, as I said earlier, not over done. That being said, I honest to God, just felt sick to my stomach. I had a good long think after this book. This book really read like a 5 star book to me. But after reading *that* scene, a big part of me just wanted to throw it all out and never look at the book again. That was part of my gut instinct reaction. But then I thought about it. This happens in real life. Every day. Woman and girls across the world are violated and abused each day. And I had to look past how hard it was for me to read it and realize what an important message this book was telling. I did however need a little bit of time to just sit and process my emotions.
This book is about the tragedy borne of silence, of finding the strength to speak out, and the righteous delivery of justice. It is also about finding love, finding forgiveness and following your heart no matter what.
There is a love story in this book. A passionate, heartbreaking romance that does have a happy ending. It is no fairy tale to be sure. But don’t worry about having your heart permanently shattered, because there is healing and despite being shaken, I was left in a good place.
This is a stand alone.
*** The author does not encourage rape or sexual assault victims to read this book and I strongly agree with her.