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Review: Bitter End by Jennifer Brown

Review: Bitter End by Jennifer BrownBitter End by Jennifer Brown
on May 10, 2011
Pages: 359
Format: Paperback

When Alex falls for the charming new boy at school, Cole -- a handsome, funny, sports star who adores her -- she can't believe she's finally found her soul mate . . . someone who truly loves and understands her.
At first, Alex is blissfully happy. Sure, Cole seems a little jealous of her relationship with her close friend Zack, but what guy would want his girlfriend spending all her time with another boy? As the months pass, though, Alex can no longer ignore Cole's small put-downs, pinches, or increasingly violent threats.
As Alex struggles to come to terms with the sweet boyfriend she fell in love with and the boyfriend whose "love" she no longer recognizes, she is forced to choose -- between her "true love" and herself.

I have now read two books by Jennifer Brown (this one and Hate List), and I have fiercely loved both. She does not sugarcoat issues that teenagers are experiencing, or try to pretend they do not exist. Instead, Brown goes out of her way to make these things relatable – in Hate List, we develop a slow-burning empathy for a young man who performs a school shooting, the exact sort of person we’re expected to never understand. And in Bitter End, we see the side of many relationships that we’d prefer to pretend doesn’t exist: partner abuse.

How I’d Describe This Book to a Friend

Alex is your typical high school senior. She has a part-time job at a local cafe, loves to write angsty poetry, and spends her free time with her two best friends since diapers, Bethany and Zack. Her mother died when she was very young, on her way out the door to soul search in Colorado, and her father has been a shell of a man ever since. Determined to find answers, Alex, Beth and Zack have concocted a sweet coming-of-age-story road trip for right after high school – have been planning it for years. They are thick as thieves, and nothing is going to get in their way.

Until Cole moves into town, that is. A basketball star, intelligent and well-mannered, when Cole is assigned to Alex’s tutoring session her heart races involuntarily. Even better, he likes her poetry! He stands up when she enters a room, he opens her car door for her, he teaches her to play the guitar. She is so very in love, so very smitten, and so, so confused when he clamps his hand around her wrist one day, anger streaking across his face as he calls her a slut. She is in love with Zack, Cole just knows it, and he refuses to share. Alex is overcome with sadness, but when Cole comes around later with apologies and tears in his eyes … well, how can she stay mad at him? He said it won’t happen again, so it won’t.


The Bottom Line

There were a couple of moments in this book that really took my breath away. I’ve been in an abusive relationship before, and Brown really nails Alex’s internal monologue on the head. She doesn’t skimp on details – lets us see exactly how this poor girl is feeling – how in love, how confused. She doesn’t want to be “the abused girl,” she doesn’t want to tell her sisters who are distant at best and cruel at worst. She can’t let her father know, and her best friends who have been slowly distanced from her via the wedge Cole is driving between them … it would all fall apart like a house of cards. Alex has met Cole’s family, and she understands him – she gets him. We see his broken home. We see Alex’s love for him – that pure, unparalleled love only a teenager in puppy love can give another for the first time.

And that’s what makes this book so hard, and so necessary.

I won’t say anything else about the plot because it would do a disservice to Alex and her story, but please read this one. If you have a teenager, if you work with teenagers, get a copy of this for them, for your library. Kids need to read this, need to know they aren’t alone. And sometimes we all need a reminder that love does not have to hurt.

I loved Cole, but sometimes loving him just felt like I was on a roller coaster and I couldn’t catch my breath between dips and turns. And sometimes I just wanted off.

He whispered things. Apologies. Excuses. Promises. They bounced off me, impossible to absorb. I believed him and I didn’t. I hated him and I didn’t. I loved him and I didn’t. I hated me and I felt sorry for me. Words had no meaning. There was no past and no future. It was as if all I had to do was live through this moment and everything would be all right.

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