Young Adult Contemporary
This book surprised me. In a good way.
From the back cover:
Sometimes at night, I wake up and stare at the heart for hours. I think of how I collected each piece from the beach, how I glued it all together into one big sculpture. I wonder if Connor realizes what it means, that he'll always have a piece of me no matter what happens. Each piece of glass is another piece of myself that I gave to him.
It's too bad I didn't keep any pieces for myself.
This is not your typical "abusive relationship" story, although it very well could have been, had the author not decided to tell it backwards.
That's right. Backwards. The entire novel is a string of flashbacks. Unfortunately, this is the very same reason why I struggled through the first 50 or so pages. The timeline takes some getting used to. But I'm so glad I stuck with it.
We start with Ann in a very bad place, made clear by the very first sentence: I lie in pieces on the floor. Then we are shown the events that led up to this pivotal moment. Every so often, the story jumps back (ahead?) to the opening scene.
Which, in my opinion, is crucial. If we hadn't kept going back/forward to that moment, the character arc would have collapsed by the end. Because the end is really the beginning, so by that point we already know everything that happened/is going to happen. In any good story, the main character has to make a tough decision at the end. Ann does just that in the final flash forward.
And that was the scene in which I completely lost all my composure, followed quickly after by the final-final scene, the day Ann and Connor meet, and, being already in a state of sobbery from the scene before it, it was just too much to take--all the innocence of that first meeting coupled with the knowledge of the downward spiral that follows...
I pretty much died at the end of this book. It's that good.
But let's go back to the heart of glass in the blurb and on the cover for a minute. I love when stories have an object of value (to the main character) tying everything together. Every time this heart was mentioned in a scene I felt a little closer to Ann, understood her a little more. It starts out broken, as does her figurative heart, and then as we travel backwards through time we see how she put it all together while Connor progressively crushed her heart.
It's an amazing parallel to the story of Ann and Connor's relationship. So fragile, yet sharp-edged like broken glass. And at one time, it was beautiful. But now it's shattered.
The thing I liked even more than the parallel of the glass heart and the brilliance of telling the story backwards, however, was the presentation of the characters. In a book like this it's easy to make the abuser flat. One dimensional. But Connor isn't, and that's one of the main things that kept me turning pages. It's also easy to make the victim unsympathetic. You get to a certain point in a story like this, and you just want to shake her, saying, "Get away from him! Why don't you just leave already?!"
Ann gives the simply-stated-yet-not-simply-understood answer in the title: But I Love Him. A situation like this is never black and white.
If this is subject matter you normally shy away from because you feel the story has already been told in every possible way, then I highly recommend reading this book. It might just surprise you in the good way it did me. 5 of 5 stars, and a contender for my Best Read of 2011.