Saturday, March 12, 2011

Bitter End by Jennifer Brown

Alex's mother died in a car accident when she was young, and her father's been distant ever since.  She isn't close with either of her sisters.  Luckily, she has two wonderful best friends, Zack and Bethany, and now, in her senior year of high school, Alex has met her soul mate.  Cole is sweet and romantic and understands her.  So what if he gets jealous sometimes?  So what if he likes to have her all to himself?  It's only because he loves her so much.  And then he hits her. Now Alex doesn't know what to do.

This was hard to read.  But it was hard to read because it was well done.  I was upset as I read it.  I couldn't read it before I went to bed because I couldn't stop thinking about it.  I wanted to help Alex, to rescue her somehow.  To give her a hug and say, "You poor baby."

I think the biggest question when talking about abusive relationships is, "why doesn't she just leave?"  How could someone stay with someone who hurts you and makes you feel like crap?  Alex isn't a stupid girl, how could she let this happen?  We see how Alex's relationship begins with Cole, and it's good.  They're happy, and there are a lot of things to like about Cole.  Cole is also her first real boyfriend.  The first person to tell her he loves her.  The first person she has sex with.  So even when things get bad, she doesn't just stop loving him.  It doesn't work like that.  There were all those good times.  Most of the time things are good.  It was just once, and he said he was sorry, and that it would never happen again.  And because Alex loves him she believes he.  By the time she understands he's never going to stop, she feels trapped.  She's afraid what will happen if she tries to break up with him.  She's afraid to ask for help. 

And it starts so small.  Cole gently pushes Alex to do things she isn't totally comfortable with.  Then taking up all her free time.  Acting annoyed when she spends time with her other friends. Then not talking to her when she spends time with someone other than him.  It progresses slowly.

A major issue for Cole becomes Alex relationship with Zack, who she's know since childhood.  Cole is incredibly jealous.  He doesn't want her to spend time with Zack.  He accuses Alex of cheating on him.  The first time Cole physically hurts her, it's because she was out with Zack and Bethany.  He calls her a slut and grabs her by her hair, twisting and bruising her wrist.  Alex is scared and confused.  She thinks she must be doing something wrong, since this isn't what Cole is really like.  If she can just make sure to not upset him, then it won't happen again.

Of course, it isn't really about her at all.  There's nothing she could ever do that would make him stop hitting her or being verbally abusive to her.  It soon becomes that whenever Cole is in a bad mood, he takes it out on Alex. 

We see the cycle of abuse.  The first time Alex meets Cole's parents, she feels sorry for him since his mother is either smothering him or not speaking at all.  As time goes on, Alex comes to realize that Cole's father is probably abusive to his mother.  She also finds out she's not the first girl that Cole has hurt.  It unfortunately takes a severe beating and ending up in the hospital to break away from Cole.

So it was hard to read.  It was frustrating, knowing how often this really happens.  But it's good there are books like this that really examine it.  Alex is ashamed of what's happening.  She doesn't want to be "that" girl.  She doesn't want everyone to know and to think she's weak and can't stand up for herself.  She thinks no one will understand.  And she still loves Cole, despite everything, and she's ashamed of that.  It was a painfully realistic situation.  The only thing I wish is that we could have seen what the people around her could have done to help.

I think this drives home how important it is to teach about healthy relationships.  An excuse Alex kept making was that Cole was only so jealous because he loved her so much and couldn't bear to think about loosing her.  But that's not how it should be.  Even if Zack was interested in Alex, that didn't mean he got to be with her.  It takes two people to cheat.  Cole clearly didn't trust Alex, but she wasn't seeing it like that.  Alex didn't have a healthy family relationship to look at to see what things should be like, and neither did Cole.  Another reason why we need not only sexual education in school, but also what a healthy relationship looks like.

Bitter End will be available May 10th.

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