Bad Romance is a heartbreaking story about relationship abuse and self-loathing, and one of the most accurate portrayals that I’ve ever read. The book is exceptionally well-written, with developed characters that talked and acted like typical teenagers. It shows how a troubled home life can drive a young woman into the arms an abuser, trapped in a relationship because of dependency. Grace’s character changes gradually over course of the novel as her relationship with Gavin steadily spirals downhill.
One of the things that worked really well for this novel is that it starts from the beginning, when Grace met Gavin and how they fell in love. Too often with stories about abuse it either begins when things are already bad and nearing the end, or come as a complete surprise to the main character who is usually not the victim in question, but someone related to the abuser.
The reasons that these stories are flawed is because it makes things pretty black and white and it fails to capture what really makes leaving difficult for victims. In Bad Romance readers go on a journey with Grace from the beginning of the relationship to the very end, the reader experiences all the highs and all the lows right alongside the main character. Even though it’s painful to read, it’s understandable why Grace doesn’t recognize what is happening to her for a multitude of reasons.
The best way that I can explain it is a metaphor that I had heard several years ago to describe domestic violence that couldn’t be more true. Imagine a frog sitting in a pot of slowly boiling water. The frog won’t notice right away that it’s getting too hot because it has time to acclimate itself to the steadily rising temperature. Before the frog even realizes it, the pot is boiling and so is the frog.
It’s often the same with abusive relationships. Things seem comfortable, ideal even in the early stages, but over time the temperature starts to change. A insult here, an accusation there, some unreasonable demands or rules, an invasion of privacy, and steadily over time the victim starts to feel less and less sure of themselves. They think, “well they didn’t mean it and I’m sure that they love me.”
“When you’re a stupid girl in love, it’s almost impossible to see the red flags. It’s so easy to pretend they’re not there, to pretend that everything is perfect.”
People know to look for the more overt signs, physical and sexual violence, but it’s the emotional and verbal abuse that’s the real killer. As one partner steadily takes control of the relationship, the other person loses their autonomy and they become reliant, often not knowing how to fight back anymore. By then it’s too late, and if a victim does try to fall back, how often do we see headlines about a person attacked and even killed by their partner in an act of revenge? Or the victim gives in and stays when their partner threatens to harm themselves? It’s a vicious thing that isn’t always clear on the outside and folks don’t always realize when it’s happening to them until it’s too late, much like the poor frog boiling to death.
As a survivor of domestic abuse I appreciated this book and I wish I could have read a book like this when I was younger. Perhaps it could have saved me a lot of depression and heartache. Not only because it does the very obvious thing, which is to yell, “ABUSE IS BAD, GET HELP” but it showed the complexities of a relationship and how abuse can take many different forms but ultimately leads to the same conclusion. The differences are illustrated pretty clearly in the abusive relationships in the book: Grace and Gavin, Grace’s mother and step father, Grace and her mother. It is so clear that Grace’s parents are a huge warning for the future if she stays on her current path.
On top of the relationship abuse, I was surprised to find in this book to be a heartbreaking depiction of how untreated Obsessive Compulsive Disorder (OCD) and self loathing can ruin a person’s life, exasperated by years of abuse and stress. I know that a lot of people hate Grace’s mom, but it sadly reminded me of my own mother who suffered from years of domestic abuse and took it out on me, just as Grace’s mother does to her. I’m not excusing it, of course, none of it is right, some of it makes sense, and all of it is toxic, and that’s the point.
Abusers don’t need a good reason to be abusive, and they rarely do, which is why it is up to us to worry about the one person that matters—ourselves. The book was so true to life that it will definitely be a difficult read for some.
I also have to give this book some serious love for the strong female friendships present throughout the entirety of the book. Too often there is a noticeable lack of strong, supportive friendships in YA literature and most female characters spend all of their time competing or snubbing each other. Friends can be and often are the only support system for a victim, so it was refreshing to see. If there was one thing that I did not like about the novel, it’s that it employs a sort of second person narration in which the main character is speaking directly to Gavin, “you.” I don’t really like when books use this type of narration because it feels awkward to read.
Overall, this book is simply fantastic. It is honest, subtle in the way that it talks about abuse and how it can change the very core of a person. It shows the reader how to recognize abuse when presented with it, even if it comes in a really nice package or seems like an escape. This book would be an excellent teaching tool for teens and could be a conversation starter for friends or parents looking to intervene in a troubled relationship. I loved this book and cautiously recommend it with trigger warnings due to the very sensitive subject matter.
Title: Bad Romance
Author: Heather Demetrios
Publisher: Henry Holt and Co.
Publication Date: June 13, 2017
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.