Bitter End by Jennifer Brown
Published by Little, Brown, an imprint of Hachette
When Alex falls for Cole, the new boy at school, she couldn’t be more thrilled when he reciprocates her feelings. Soon they are a couple, and she couldn’t be happier. It’s true that he can sometimes be a little jealous, and he doesn’t much care for Alex’s two best friends, but Alex is sure that these things will pass with time. But it’s not long before a little jealousy turns into constant insults, obsessive phone calls, and even threats of violence. When Cole throws his first punch, Alex knows it’s time to get out – but is it too late?
Jennifer Brown’s Hate List remains one of my favorite YA books, so when I saw she had a new one coming out I requested it from the library right away. Bitter End definitely lived up to my expectations (truthfully, I was expecting amazing and I did get that) and I have to say that Brown is one of the best YA fiction writers out there, I think.
The thing about the way Brown writes is that it’s so truthful, so raw, and so filled with pain that the reader can truly feel what the characters are feeling very easily. Bitter End is about such a difficult subject – domestic violence in teen relationships – but it’s written so well that no matter how painful the story is (and it gets very painful), the book continues to be compulsively readable. It’s the kind of book that you might want to put down due to the emotional toll it’s taking on you, but you can’t because you’re desperate to find out what will happen next. I flew through this book in a matter of hours and loved every emotional second of it.
I loved the character of Alex because she’s written very realistically. Every teenage girl (and adult woman, really) tells themselves that there is no way they’d allow a boy or man to abuse them, yet it happens to so many women. How does it happen? They fall in love first, of course. This is something that always bothers me when abuse is talked about in the world – nobody ever explains that the reason a woman will “allow” a man to hit her is because she loves him. Yes, it can really be that simple. When you are completely, madly, deeply in love with a person you truly believe in your heart that they love you too and that it is possible they will change and stop abusing. This often unmentioned aspect of domestic violence is something that Brown illustrated very well in Bitter End. Alex and Cole fell in love, and while it was teenage love, it was still real love, to the point that when Cole began with his comments and abusive behavior, Alex was shocked. She didn’t see the behavior as the true Cole, the guy she had fallen in love with, so at first she believed that it was brought on by the situation, or something she had done, or whatever. This is such a true illustration of how these abusive relationships work and bravo to Jennifer Brown for getting this part right.
But anyway, back to Alex. She was a realistic teenager – a smart girl, with a somewhat crappy home life, who just wanted to hang out with her friends, be a teenager, and sure falling in love would be a fun thing to have happen too. When Cole starts in with his abusive behavior, she is shocked and at first tries to placate him, tries to control the situation because she really does love him and think he can change. But what I most loved about her character was that she was brave. She stood up to him, she stood up for herself, and she made it clear (after a while) that she was not going to accept him doing this to her. I was awed and impressed by her courage, and I love that Brown wrote her to be such a strong character.
Bitter End is a difficult and emotional read but an important one all the same. Teen dating violence is more common than we’d like to think and the cycle of abuse, something typically not discussed in the media, is illustrated very well here. Add an engaging, interesting, and smart character to that list and Bitter End is truly an excellent novel. I would highly recommend it.