As I’ve come to expect from Holly’s novels, this was a moving, poignant and highly topical story about an emotionally abusive relationship and how easy it is to lose yourself in that drug-like high called love. Told in two intermingling timelines, we see Amelie meet and fall for Reece, a cute and charming boy in a band, and six months later, Amelie retracing their steps to figure out why it hurts so much after the broke up.
The premise was fascinating and oddly hilarious, as Amelie butts in on herself, warning us of the red flags that she should have seen at the time, like the casual claim Reece laid on her when they first met or the way he systematically removed her from her friends. All the romantic gesture that had Amelie swooning at the time, made her to angry months later. Even I was practically screaming at the book at times – for example, Reece gate crashes Amelie’s first gig to sing her a song and tell her he loves her. Um, rude! But most of the girls at school, Amelie included, thought it was the sweetest thing. No! But, of course, it’s easy to see in hindsight the terribly manipulative things he did.
I saw Holly at the Bath Children’s Literature Festival at the end of September and she spoke about her writing process for this book. Holly knew it was going to be an ambitious project but wanted to book to be a rite of passage, a safe place for girls to understand the importance of healthy relationships, while remaining hopeful. Apparently, it was originally in second person and Holly had to re-write all the pronouns when she wanted to create the two timelines, which made the whole thing all the more complicated!
Holly also talked about Reece, how a psychology student noticed that he has classic traits of narcissistic attachment disorder, and how she wrote him to be douche gift-wrapped in charismatic coolness. Reece is one of those characters that you love to hate, that you can’t quite put your finger on what makes your skin crawl about him. Holly wanted to prove that abusers blend in, that abuse itself transcends class and doesn’t discriminate to any particular “type” of victim. And Amelie doesn’t read as stupid or naïve, just caught up in a dramatic relationship and thinking its love. It highlighted the grey areas, especially in teenage relationships, where love can burn fast, and behaviours learned from rom-coms aren’t always healthy. It also emphasised the importance of listening to your gut, about recognising the red flags and being comfortable and confident enough in your relationship to speak up.
I adored Holly’s latest. Maybe a bit different to her other novels, it still highlighted the important issue recognising and having healthy relationships, romantic or platonic, young or old. I wanted to bundle Amelie in a hug and smack Reece in the face for most of the book, and even though I finished it a few weeks back, it’s still swirling around my head: how Reece could behave like that, how I wish Amelie was stronger in the first place to voice her worries, how emotion trauma is just as significant as physical and just as difficult to move on from. Definitely a winner of a book and one that all teenagers should read.