Review: Bitter End
Following up Hate List, a book that explores how people heal in the aftermath of a school shooting, Jennifer Brown tackles another tough subject in Bitter End. Alex’s mom died when she was young; her dad dismisses her mom as crazy and doesn’t bring the topic up much. He doesn’t bring up much of anything because he does little parenting or talking at all. Alex’s younger siblings don’t seem to be hit as hard by the loss of their mom. The only people who understand what Alex is going through are her best friends, Bethany and Zach, who have been with her through everything. That is why it’s so important to Alex that the three of them take a trip to Colorado, where her mom was heading when she died, in an attempt to gain closure.
Alex, Bethany, and Zach are thick as thieves. They hang out all the time, roughhousing and teasing each other like family more than friends. However, when Alex starts dating Cole, a new guy in school, a rift forms in their friendship. There doesn’t seem to be enough room for an extra member in the group, particularly since Bethany and Zach are wary of Cole, who may not be the nice guy he appears to be to Alex.
Cole knows how to pull out all the stops and offer up all kinds of romantic gestures, and Alex thinks she just might have found somebody who understands her even better than her friends, but Cole also has a tendency to explode. Cole keeps an eye on Alex all the time, often feeling jealous of her relationship with Zach. When his temper gets out of control, he gets verbally abusive and violent. Alex’s friends and manager at work begin to worry about her, but she resists their help, pushing everyone farther and farther away. She’s sure that she can figure out how to keep Cole happy, how to say the right things so he won’t get so angry. Alex wants to stick with Cole until the bitter end, but what if she can’t stop him from getting angry? And what if he loses it and goes too far?
One of a number of new YA books dealing with domestic violence, Bitter End shows a fairly by-the-book portrait of abuse. Bitter End did not have the same emotional intensity for me as Hate List, and I think that may be because the characters occasionally felt like profiles as much as people. That’s not to say that the violence wasn’t heartbreaking, or that I didn’t cringe each time Alex second-guessed whether she should stay with Cole, but I did find most of the plotting and emotions to follow a fairly predictable path. I’m not sure that Bitter End did anything all that different, but even if it covered the same ground as many other books, it did it well. I still love Brown’s writing, and I certainly wouldn’t want to belittle the importance of such a book. I’m glad that there are growing numbers of books out there taking on unhealthy relationships, but I do hope that authors will find fresh, unexpected ways to present the topic.