Saturday, December 10, 2011

Bitter End by Jennifer Brown

Publisher: Little, Brown Books for Young Readers

Pages: 368

Series or Stand Alone: Stand Alone

Summary: When Alex falls for the charming new boy at school, Cole -- a handsome, funny, sports star who adores her -- she can't believe she's finally found her soul mate . . . someone who truly loves and understands her.
At first, Alex is blissfully happy. Sure, Cole seems a little jealous of her relationship with her close friend Zack, but what guy would want his girlfriend spending all her time with another boy? As the months pass, though, Alex can no longer ignore Cole's small put-downs, pinches, or increasingly violent threats.
As Alex struggles to come to terms with the sweet boyfriend she fell in love with and the boyfriend whose "love" she no longer recognizes, she is forced to choose -- between her "true love" and herself.

I've had the galley of this one kicking around forever. I finally got around to reading Jennifer Brown's first book, Hate List, awhile ago and really liked it. Instead of simply telling the story of a school shooting, she told the story of what happened to the people after the shooting. Her main character was the girlfriend of the shooter and had to deal with the aftermath of her boyfriend's actions. The shooting was explained in alternating flashbacks, so the main focus was on how the main character attempted to move on with her life after such a horrific event. Since Jennifer Brown did something so different with the school shooting issue, I decided to check out how she dealt with the issue of abuse in teenage relationships.
Jennifer Brown's Bitter End explores the psychological impact an abusive relationship makes on a teenage girl. Alex had a fairly normal life--she had two best friends, she worked a job at the local bread/soup place, and she did well in school. She was trying to save money to go on a trip to Colorado with her friends after graduation in order to find out why her mother, who died when she was a child, left in the first place for the same state. She meets Cole through tutoring and he immediately charms her. He's a football player that knows how to make a girl feel special and loved. At first, he just makes comments, calling Alex a "slut" and telling her that she's stupid. He's ridiculously jealous of her friend Zack and makes prickish comments about him and her friend Bethany to their faces. Eventually, he starts hurting Alex--little pinches and bruise-inducing wrist grabs, later full blown punches and shoving. Alex knows that his behavior is not okay, but she loves him too much to let other people know about his negative side (not that he hides it well). Not to mention her own embarrassment that something like this is actually happening to her. She hides the abuse, driving her friends and family away in the process. Ultimately, Zack makes it so she cannot hide what's going on anymore.
One of the strongest aspects of this novel was the portrayals of the relationships between Alex and the characters other than Cole. I'm not saying that Brown did a poor job of depicting the relationship between Alex and Cole, I'm saying that I found the other relationships to be more important in the purpose of the story. Alex lacked in what she considered a "proper" family: her mother was dead, missing for most of her life; her father was mentally absent, having never gotten over the loss of Alex's mother; and there was a great distance between her and her siblings. Alex relied on her two best friends, Zack and Bethany, to be her family instead. This is why Alex's relationship with Cole proved to be so devastating to those friendships. Zach and Bethany did not sit idly by when they saw their friend becoming involved in such a negative relationship; they attempted to convince her that Cole was dangerous and Zack even fought him a few times. Ultimately, Zack and Bethany are unable to pull Alex away from Cole, even when he starts to physically abuse her. Alex needed to remove herself from the situation. She did not listen to her friends, understandably causing a rift between them. Brown does not have the friends stand by Alex and watch her get hurt day after day; while they always support her, they must move away from her. After Alex finally gets herself away from Cole, it takes about a year for her friends to start to forgive her for getting herself into such a painful situation and ignoring their correct judgments while she was with Cole. I thought that was very well executed on Brown's part. Things could not have just gone back to normal because Alex was in the hospital; her friends were upset with her and a healing process was necessary.
Brown paced the relationship between Cole and Alex believably. At first, their relationship was normal, if a little codependent. Cole's jealousy of Zack grew, beginning his verbal abuse of Alex. He began physically abusing her slowly, grabbing her wrist too hard or pinching her whenever he felt that she was out of line. Finally he began all out abusing her, causing her to stay home to hide the bruises from her family and loved ones. I thought the psychological portrayal was well-rounded. Brown did not only use the idea that Alex loved Cole, she made it about Alex as well. Alex did not want to abandon Cole, knowing that he too had a less than pleasant family situation. She also loved him and wanted to protect him from the judgments of others, including her best friends. However, this was not all. Alex thought she was also protecting herself from the judgments of others, that if she didn't tell anyone, she wouldn't be known as "that girl that let her boyfriend abuse her." In wanting to not be labeled a victim, Alex pretty much made herself one.
The ending was a bit rushed for my taste, but it was satisfactory. I'm not a big fan of epilogues, but when time needs to pass like it did to show Alex with Bethany and Zack in Colorado, it can work. Brown pointed out the strain that their relationships underwent and how it took a long time for them to be okay again, which helped. I wished she had made the epilogue slightly longer, maybe taking the time to explain more of Alex's current life, including her talks with high school students about abuse in teen relationships.
This book told me that I should keep reading whatever Jennifer Brown writes. Jennifer Brown's Bitter End provided a well executed look at the psychological strain an abusive relationship can take on a teenage girl. Brown provided for complex relationships and friendships for this purpose, not shuffling people around in relationships because she could. I especially liked the characters of Zack and WHAT WAS HER NAME, who seemed like completely real people. I'm looking forward to Jennifer Brown's next release, Perfect Escape, which comes out Summer 2012.

Rating: 4 - good.

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