Bitter End by Jennifer Brown
Published May 10th 2011 by Little Brown
Hardcover, 359 Pages
Review Copy- (ATWT)
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 understands her and loves her for who she really is. At first, Alex is blissfully happy. Sure, Cole seems a little jealous of her relationship with her best friends, Zack and Bethany, but what guy would want his girlfriend spending all of her time with another boy? But as the months pass, 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.
Its senior year, it’s the beginning of a new chapter, one that will bring the closing of high school and the road to freedom. Since she was little, Alex has dreamed of graduating and heading to Colorado, a place her mother was heading to before she died. Long time best friends Zack and Bethany have been planning to go with her and years have passed with ideas and excitement to finally make the trip happen. The three are close and inseparable, that is until Alex meets the new boy at school and becomes his tutor. Over the course of a few months, Alex begins feeling intense emotions for Cole and he for her. They begin dating and at first things are wonderful, exciting and new. The little things that nag at her mind, like Cole not liking her friends or him staying in the café during her work shifts she ignores and blows off as love. The control and constant calling all apart of Cole's undying affection for her, so when he makes her choose between him and her friends its not all that shocking to deal with his jealousy, but when Cole physically hurts Alex for the first time she is scared, confused and still completely in love. On the outs with her friends, having a non-existent father and no help Alex must face the clutches of domestic violence alone.
This was a scary read, not in the Freddy Kruger sense but in a reality sense. The hardest and scariest part about Bitter End was Cole and not because he was the bad guy, it was because in the beginning and half way through the violence I liked him. I kept thinking ok hes a charming good guy, he wont really hit her….and then later thinking he really is going to shape up and get help…..and then almost to the end, angry because the Cole I liked disappeared underneath the blackness that emitted out of him. I began to despise him slowly, but at the same time I felt really bad for him and how he became who he was, Cole needed help desperately, but no one could stand in the gap for him, no one could help because he was already to far gone. I understood the tangled mix of emotions Alex was going through concerning him because I was a mess liking and hating him as well, I wasn't the one being hit so I can only imagine in real life how hard it would be to deal with this train wreck of emotions. I certainly felt like an outsider looking in while reading this, I didn't relate to either character but felt emotional towards both of them, Alex more so because she was suffering the abuse, they were both victims of their circumstances making it so hard for me as the reader to hate Cole, even though I was angry at him and he deserved every consequence coming his way, including jail.
On another note though, I wasn’t only angry with Cole, I was angry at Alex’s father. Primarily the man was a dirt bag and a pathetic excuse for a parent. Fathers should protect their daughters, its like a written rule somewhere, dads should be the man in a girls life, until the time comes to let her go into a healthy relationship, and even then the responsibility shouldn’t end, nothing ticks me off more than a lazy good for nothing parent. Cole should never have been able to continue hitting Alex, nobody stepped in and nobody stopped anything. Even after Alex’s best friends found out he was hitting her, they never told an adult, they never reported it or even got involved (besides one incident that stayed hidden) sometimes its hard to be the person who says something, who takes a stand, regardless though had anyone, be it the father, sister or the best friends had actually taken a risk and spoke out, Alex may have avoided the escalating violence against her. Ultimately Alex choose to stay in the relationship, but by the time she considered leaving Cole, emotional and sexual bonds had already been formed, she truly loved him and the decision to walk away became more difficult everyday she stayed. In most of these domestic violence situations, the woman finally gets outside help and makes the choice to leave, another person steps in or she is murdered or becomes the murderer. Thankfully for a YA novel, Brown didn’t take this story into to dark a territory. I think teens will benefit (especially girls) reading about the stages Alex went through, from the first signs of trouble- the stalking made to be romantic, the controlling and obsession that at first came off like a paranormal romance which quickly turned evil. The passion and sex that soon became another weapon for Cole to use, the name calling, the manipulation- all these things that young girls sometimes think is love. I can give you a list of potential abusers in YA novels, its not glamorous to be stalked, controlled or to become a mans obsession, young women need to know these are flaws in a man or woman's character not sizzling romance.
A gritty, raw and thought provoking look into teenage domestic violence and the cycle of abuse. Jennifer Brown has a talent to take the issue and turn it inside out making you look hard at the victim and the circumstances. Just like The Hate List made us look at the killer, Bitter End makes you look at the abuser.
Bitter End is recommended to mature teens and adults. Contains: Graphic language, sexuality, domestic violence in teen dating with graphic and frightening abuse, distracted parents, family and friendship drama. Also contains: teen partying, drinking and mild drug/smoking use.
4.5/5- YA-Contemporary (Dating violence/abuse)