Review: Bad Romance by Heather Demetrios

I received this book for free from Publisher in exchange for an honest review. This does not affect my opinion of the book or the content of my review.

Review: Bad Romance by Heather DemetriosBad Romance by Heather Demetrios
Published by Henry Holt BFYR on June 13, 2017
Genres: Contemporary
Pages: 368
Format: ARC
Source: Publisher
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five-stars

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.

Heather Demetrios has continually hit it out of the park with her contemporary novels. (I haven’t read her fantasy, so I have no comment on that.) She combines a powerful voice, a strong concept, a skill with banter, and a deft hand with relationship building and narrative arcs for contemporary novels that really punch you in the feels with both happiness and sadness. Bad Romance departs from the HEA romance arena for a heavy-hitting, unflinching study of a toxic relationship, and it’s Demetrios’ best yet.

YA has myriad books about toxic friendships. Give me a few minutes, and I could list a whole host of them. Dahlia could reel off probably twice as many off the top of her head. That’s great and important, but Demetrios is focusing on a toxic romance (as well as toxic parents, though those already abound in YA). This certainly isn’t the first book to do so (Seventeen First Kisses by Rachael Allen is another good example, as is Play On by Michelle Smith), but it’s the most focused.

Bad Romance delves in deep, and it’s one of those rare cases where I don’t mind that the secondary characters mostly aren’t as developed, because the whole book is Grace working through everything that’s happened to her. She pays attention to Gavin and to her mother, because they are the ones who have fucked her up the most. Her dad and the Giant (step-dad) are also toxic, but they didn’t ever get in her heart, so they’re not the relationships she’s attempting to process.

If you’ve hung around me for a while, you’ve probably heard me rant about how much I second person (ironically, I’m using it right now). Without a compelling reason, I don’t think it should be used in fiction. Fight me. Actually don’t. Bad Romance is one of the rare cases where I completely get and appreciate  second person. The book is written like a letter to Gavin, and, in this case, that makes the whole thing so much more impactful and immediate. Brava, Demetrios.

One of the choices Demetrios made was to tell the story of this toxic relationship reflectively. At the start of the novel, Grace has finally escaped the relationship, and then she goes back to tell everything from the start, to figure out what signs she missed and where things went wrong. Throughout, there are moments where Grace leaves her narrative to comment on what’s happening, and those moments inevitably feel like a dagger to the heart. The dramatic irony inherent to this method of storytelling could have lessened the immediacy, but it actually makes the happy times painful and hard to take, because you know what’s coming. The amount of times I had to put Bad Romance down and take a break because my heart couldn’t take it was a lot. It took me over a week to finish, despite the fact that I loved this book from the start.

While the subject matter is uniformly depressing and rage-inducing, the narrative voice makes the book digestible. Grace is funny and clever, and there’s a seam of humor running throughout most of the book. It’s one of the best examples of narrative voice I’ve read in a while. I often struggle to get through darker contemporary fiction, but Demetrios’ use of balance made this work for me.

Speaking of rage-inducing, I have a lot of hate for Grace’s mother, father, and step-dad. They’ve completely destroyed her self-esteem. They basically treat her like Cinderella. She’s expected to prepare meals for her asshole step-dad, babysit every day, and pay rent the moment she turns eighteen; she receives no affection whatsoever, is treated like a burden, and regularly made late to school or work because her mom will not drive her. Grace alone cleans the house, and she’s expected to deep clean it absolutely every day; the barest speck of dust left anywhere brings her mother down on her head. They are way beyond the usual terrible YA parents. The loathing I feel for them can only be expressed with a mace, basically. View Spoiler »

Because of the environment in which Grace lives, she’s an easy target for a guy like Gavin. At first, their romance is idyllic, perfect, everything she ever dreamed. She’d been crushing on him for years, and she suddenly got him by writing him a sweet note after he attempted suicide when his prior girlfriend dumped him. That’s sign number one.

The most important takeaway from this relationship is that something that seems to perfect probably is. People aren’t perfect, and someone who rhapsodizes about how absolutely perfect you are may be prepping you for a fall. And pop culture in no way prepares people for this, because most stories end with the couple just getting together; I’m so suspicious now of the “perfect” love interests. Gavin builds Grace up, gets her to crave his approbation, and then he begins to tear her back down. It’s painful to watch, especially because Grace’s self-esteem is already so low; of course, that’s why he wanted her. Trust your friends and listen to your instincts. Don’t let someone put you down or tell you who you can spend time with. View Spoiler »

Bad Romance is one of those books I love fiercely, and I literally have nothing negative to say about it whatsoever. But I don’t know if I could ever read it again, because youch. It’s worth the pain, though, and teens absolutely need a book that shows the ways that relationships can become toxic.

Favorite Quote:

In my next life, I’m going to be an ass-kicking ninja warrior queen. And I will hunt shits like you down. Throw your ass in a dungeon and drop the key in my moat and my lady knights will be all, Huzzah! and I will sit on my throne like, Yes.

Tl;dr – Review in a GIFfy:

One response to “Review: Bad Romance by Heather Demetrios”

  1. lenore says:

    As I said on twitter, this topic is sorely needed in YA. Glad she does it so well!

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