“I gave you my heart on a silver fucking platter and you ate it, piece by bloody piece.”
Thank you very much to Macmillan Children’s Publishing Group for providing a copy of the novel in exchange for an honest review.
Reading Bad Romance by Heather Demetrios is like watching a train wreck occur before you very eyes, in slow motion: you are horrified, but at the same time, you are unable to look away. The novel is emotional from beginning to end, as it explores the discourse surrounding toxic relationships, and complex family connections.
Trigger warnings: verbal/emotional domestic abuse, suicide, mental illness, rape.
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.
(This review contains very mild spoilers.)
Heather Demetrios’ novel is one of the most gut-wrenching, emotional YA contemporaries I have ever read. I think it’s fair to say I have never read something like this before, as many YA novels tend to shy away from the harmful side of romance.
There were many times while reading this book where I wanted to shout at Grace and tell her to look at the signs. There were many times I wanted to shake her for her inability to leave him when she starts to recognise his unhealthy behaviour. But that is the very point of the novel; that is what the novel is trying to show: that no matter how badly you want out of a bad relationship, sometimes, it is not that easy. I have never had a Gavin of my own (thank God), so I came to this book with a completely different perspective, but the novel soon opened my eyes. Bad Romance is certainly a novel that everyone should read – it is so powerful, so heartbreaking, and so inspiring, I want to give a copy to every person I know so they can learn that they don’t always need to choose romance: they can choose themselves.
“Something in me is dimming, something that I already know I can’t get back. But you’re worth it. You are. I will tell myself this for several more months. And when I realize you aren’t worth it, it’ll be too late.”
What stood apart immediately was the use of second-person narration. I have never read a novel that utilises this type of narration before, and I have to admit, it does take some getting used to. It gives the impression of Grace relating a letter to Gavin, of her explaining their history together, from the perspective of hindsight. Once you get used to the narration style, the novel seamlessly flows from one scene to the next. The plot is quite simple in that there is not much action: the novel follows Grace for almost two years, as she meets Gavin, becomes his girlfriend, falls for him, and slowly becomes scared of him. But the heavy content and beautiful writing more than makes up for the slow plot. But given the novel’s subject, the slow plot makes sense, as the reader is following along with Grace on her journey from loving Gavin, to hating him.
Gavin’s abuse comes in the form of verbal and emotional, and I think this was a deliberate decision on the author’s part. Gavin never physically harms Grace (as in raising his hand to her), but he hurts her in a myriad of other ways. It is important to show the reader, most of whom are probably young adults themselves, that abuse comes in many different forms, not just the physically violent. A boyfriend can love you deeply, can treat you like a princess, but still talk down to you and try to isolate you from your family and friends – this type of behaviour is also domestic abuse, but many people, including society, don’t treat it as such.
“Gavin’s a nice kid, but I’ll tell you somthing: a guy like him – the kind who wants you to follow him around like a puppy dog – they’re the ones you have to watch out for.”
Gavin first treats Grace as if she is unintelligent. before moving on to controlling who she is allowed to be alone around, to forcing her to give up on her dreams, and finally, attempting to cut her friends out of her life – thankfully, Grace has the best friends in the history of the world who do not allow this to happen. Grace’s best friends, Natalie and Alyssa, are the novel’s most wonderful characters – they love Grace with all their hearts, and are always there for her, even when Gavin tries to isolate her. As true friends, they pick up on Gavin’s controlling behaviour long before Grace does, and try to warn her of this. Honestly, this novel has some of the best examples of female friendship I have read in years, and is a powerful reminder that us girls always need our bffs.
Grace is a very sympathetic character, and one I formed an emotional connection with almost immediately, even though there were times I grew incensed by her decisions (or lack thereof). Her mother has a severe mental illness, which is increased by her husband’s controlling behaviour, and Grace is viewed as her household’s slave: she is not allowed to hang out with her friends or go to parties until she has scrubbed the skirting boards, and she is constantly late to school and exams because her mother needs to lock the doors for the twelfth time in a row. There were many times I was angered on Grace’s behalf, and it is very easy to see how a girl who works as her family’s Cinderella, is swept off her feet by a sensitive, tortured soul/musician like Gavin.
“You’re a maze, all high edges and endless loops. I can’t find a way out, can’t see where I’ve been. It’s all running, lost in the dark of you. Trapped. Everywhere I turn is a dead end. I keep winding up back where I’ve started.”
There isn’t much else I can say, aside from, ‘Read this haunting novel and be prepared to cry your eyes out.’ I think Bad Romance is a novel many people should strive to read, particularly because of the messages the novel promotes (if you can handle such triggers). This novel is powerfully realistic and will open your eyes to the negative, harmful side of ‘unconditional’ romance.