The idea of abuse in a teenage relationship, for some, is a topic that never really comes up in thought or conversation. It is a serious issue, though. Teen dating abuse is just as serious and real as any other type of abuse. But I Love Him takes a hard look at this issue, from the point of view of the narrator, Ann. The slow decent into her abusive relationship is both intense and a necessary, cautionary tale about an addictive love that grew beyond one girl’s control.

At the beginning of senior year, Ann was a smiling, straight-A student and track star with friends and a future. Then she met a haunted young man named Connor. Only she can heal his emotional scars; only he could make her feel so loved-and needed. Ann can’t recall the pivotal moment it all changed, when she surrendered everything to be with him, but by graduation, her life has become a dangerous high wire act. Just one mistake could trigger Connor’s rage, a senseless storm of cruel words and violence damaging everything-and everyone-in its path.

This evocative slideshow of flashbacks reveals a heartbreaking story of love gone terribly wrong.

One of the more interesting things this book does is tell the story in reverse order. It begins on the night that Connor went too far and left Ann broken and bleeding on the floor. From there, we see the day before and then two days before that, all the way back to the first day they met each other. It was strange at first to read about a relationship in reserve order. Knowing what Ann is going through in the present, taking a look at the past colors people and situations differently than it would going beginning to end.

The moment I picked the book up, I was fixed. I freely admit to reading the entire book in one sitting. It’s a fast read, with just under 250 pages, and a compelling one.

I think one of the best things that I liked about this book — which is weird to say because of the content — is the fact that Amanda, aka Mandy Hubbard, didn’t write the “villian” as most are written: one dimensional and lacking little humanity so that we clearly and instantly hate him or her for being so villainous. Connor was not like this at all. He had depth and emotions and was someone Ann thought she could love and fix because of his background and how he treated her at the beginning of their relationship. It was only when she was in deep that he started showing his true nature. I think it even shocked him at first. Not that I’m making excuses. What he does is wrong on so many levels, but for a split second, I felt compassion and sympathy for the guy. It’s the mark of a good author when you feel compassion for the villain.

Ann, the narrator of the book, was the type of girl in high school that I would have been friends with. She’s smart, athletic, nice and seemed very authentic. It’s only when she starts dating Connor that she becomes secretive, distant and apathetic about everything but him. Her friends try to help and stick it out with her, but Ann pushes them all away in order to not upset Connor. Red flag warning, right there. Her relationship with her mom, while not exactly the best thing to begin with, quickly deteriorates when her mom brings up reservations she has about Ann’s relationship. In one year, Ann’s life turns a complete 180, to the point where she can’t even recognize herself in the first chapter of the book as she looks back on her life since meeting Connor. She asks herself, where did it go wrong? What happened to us to end up here, alone and hurt?

The fact that she even has to ask herself that… that she’s in such a position… it broke my heart. No one should wonder where they went wrong or why someone would hurt them with such anger and hatefulness and feel like it’s somehow their own fault. I think the main reason I read the book in one sitting, ignoring the light fading as the sun set, that I was sitting on the floor, which my back did not like, and that I was growing extremely hungry, was because I had to know Ann would be alright. I had to know if she would recognize that yes, she needed to get out. She needed to press charges against him and never, ever think that it was her fault this happened to her.

I’m going to have a serious moment for a second. Having lived with someone who could be set off in a rage by the slightest thing, usually something so small and insignificant, it shouldn’t matter, I know what’s it like to walk on eggshells around them and hide what’s happening to everyone else. It’s exhausting. You learn to bend the truth or outright lie without betraying a single emotion. You’re constantly trying to appease them, but nothing you do is right. Thankfully, I’ve never been in a physically abusive relationship, but verbal and emotional abuse is soul- and confidence-crushing in itself. If you are in or have been in a similar or worse situation, there is help out there. I urge you to consult someone, even if it’s a friend, to find a way out of that relationship or to get help to understand that it’s not your fault this happened to you without causing anymore harm to yourself. I know it’s scary, but you can do it. There are a number of organizations and helplines and counselors and people who genuinely want to help you. If it’s a friend who is going through this, please, please, please urge them to get out of the relationship. Help them however you can to recognize that it’s not healthy and that it’s not their fault, but that they do need to get out.

*deep breath*

So much more can be said about teenage abuse in relationships and how important it is to recognize it and talk about it. At times like this, I wish I knew the right things to say or how to successfully guide someone through the bad to see that there is still good in the world. It may look bleak now, but there is a way out. I promise.

Back to the book…

Overall, I found But I Love Him to be both a perfect fit for what I really wanted to read at that moment and a book I would recommend to those looking for something a little darker than usual, but has a good message.

But I Love Him is out in bookstores now. Amanda Grace is going to be releasing a new book on February 8th called, In Too Deep, about a lie that quickly grows too big and ends up dividing an entire school and a girl’s life, and how she deals with that.

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