This book really stood out to me out of all of the Sarah Dessen books I’ve read so far. Although this isn’t a bad thing, most of them are relatively happy love stories. This one had a darker side to it. Surprisingly (because I read a lot), this is the first book I’ve read about physical abuse in a relationship. I thought Dessen did amazing job of portraying a toxic relationship and showing how sometimes no matter how much someone hurts you, you continue to love them. The plot was intriguing and I continuously found myself eager to find out what happened next. It was somewhat predictable, but there were still a few surprises.
The characters in this book were likable but not incredibly memorable. Each of them had a distinct personality, even if a few of them are a bit stereotypical (for example, the cheerleader and the over-involved mom). I think Caitlin was a very sympathetic character. In my opinion, Dessen does an amazing job of illustrating her emotions and transformation. From the start, Caitlin feels like she isn’t good enough. She has always been compared to her older sister, Cass, who seems to be naturally good at everything. When Cass leaves, Caitlin is not only confused, but she also feels obligated to fill her sister’s shoes. Things go from bad to worse after the abuse begins. Dessen really captures how Caitlin’s life spirals out of control. As for Rogerson, he absolutely infuriated me. In fact, this was the first time I ever felt so negatively about a love interest. From the beginning, I didn’t see the charm that Caitlin saw in him. He just seemed like trouble from the start. In general, I think the characters were interesting and well-written.
There are some elements that are repeated throughout each of Sarah Dessen’s novels. For example, all of the ones I’ve read so far have had controlling mothers. Also, several have them have included realtors and catering. Furthermore, in each book Dessen seems to pick one hobby or job and incorporate it into the storyline, usually providing a lot of details about it. In Once and For All there was wedding planning, in The Truth About Forever there was catering, and in Dreamland there was photography. I found all three of these to be very interesting. I’m actually taking a photography class this semester so reading about Caitlin’s made me very excited for it. This was yet another aspect of the story that I enjoyed.
Dessen also incorporated some very important messages into this story. She emphasizes how important it is to stand up for and believe in yourself. Although I felt sympathy for Caitlin and understood how helpless she felt because of Cass leaving and Rogerson abusing her, it was obvious that she did have other options other than shutting down. I think that Dessen wanted to let readers know that there’s always a way out of tough situations and that if you can only find and respect yourself, you can get through anything. It’s also okay to reach out for help. I found these ideas to be inspiring and I’m sure others have too.
Overall, Dessen did an amazing job of portraying a toxic relationship. This book had a strong plot and well-developed characters. It held my interest throughout its duration. It certainly wasn’t the best book I’ve read this year, but I would still recommend it.
Rating: 3.5/5 stars