Johanna’s life has been hard. Her father died when she was young, and she watched her mother slip away not long before she reached her senior year in high school. Now she lives on her sister’s mercy, and their relationship hasn’t been good in a long time.
Reeve’s life has been harder. She’s suffered her whole life under the abuse of a father, uncle, and drug-addled mother, and her twin brother is mentally handicapped on top of it. Coming from a home like this, Reeve is angry, unpredictable, and aggressive.
But Johanna still loves her. No matter what Reeve says or does, Johanna won’t let go. No matter how much Reeve hurts her.
This was a fascinating book, my fourth by the wonderful Julie Anne Peters. It’s very difficult for me to know what to say about it. I suppose I’ll start by just giving you my experience with the book. Just like with all of Peters’ books so far, I picked it up, started reading, and could not put the book down until I was done. Unlike her other books, this one didn’t make me tear up or cry, but instead turned my stomach a little, but in a good way. It was masterfully done.
When I read Between Mom and Jo, I was so invested in Nick’s character that I felt everything along with him. The same happened here, with Johanna as the narrator. I went through the book feeling her emotions, seeing with her skewed, blinded vision. She funneled in, and around, and deeper, never realizing when she crossed the line between loyalty and allowing herself to become a victim. I could see, but she couldn’t, and with that double vision, I felt just sickened for everything that she went through, and all the pain she felt in more ways than one. It was extremely claustrophobic. I wanted to slap her awake, but at the same time, I understood so well.
Because really, where do you draw that line between loyalty and victimhood? At what point do you stay for someone who desperately needs you, even when they are acting against everyone’s better judgement, and at what point do you separate yourself and say, enough, I’m done? When does abandoning a person justify the pain you will cause them by leaving, when you said you’d always stay? But when does staying with them while they hurt you justify your loyalty?
It gets all mixed up and confused. No, Reeve was never right to treat Johanna the way she did, of course not. No one ever deserves to be abused, and it’s never right to become an abuser. But how much of it was beyond Reeve’s control, given the life she grew up with? I can’t say she didn’t need someone to help and love her. She desperately needed help and love. Johanna, a natural nurturer, allowed her infatuation to blossom into a sort of protectiveness that blinded her. All she knew was that Reeve needed to learn how to trust and love, and the only way for that to happen was for someone not to betray her, ie abandon her. Johanna wanted to be that person, but at what cost to herself?
There is no easy answer here, which is what makes Julie Anne Peters’ books so great. I have been in a place in my life where I’ve had to decide between loyalty and self-preservation (though thankfully never with physical abuse!!). It’s a tough place to be in. A horrible place. Even if you’re only trying to survive, the guilt inherent in pulling away is enough to crush you. We are taught to put others before ourselves, and this is one place where we can’t. That doesn’t stop the guilt, the pain, or the fear, though.
This is a great book. Absolutely wonderful. Like I said, I felt sick after reading it because the situation is just so horrible. But it was the kind of sick that says this book was amazing, and it did its job fantastically. This is no ordinary story. It’s one that needs to be read.