Though Bad Romance won’t hit shelves until June 13th, I already know my opinion will be that of a black sheep. Heather Demetrios’ take on teen relationship abuse will, without a doubt, move many readers and open the door for crucial conversation. I also feel that it portrayed the events that unfold in Grace’s life realistically, and with care. It’s an important book, with a very necessary story, but not one that I enjoyed reading. Granted, there was never a time when I expected it to be easy to get through. These books brave enough to tackle such hard issues always do take a lot out of me. But, and I feel uncomfortable even saying this, the story could be unbearably tedious at times. By that I mean there was so much potential here for deep characters, deep themes, and extremely powerful emotions. Most of the time however it just barely scrapes the surface. There’s excellent framework here, but never any push beyond what readers would expect. For me, this was a problem I just couldn’t overlook, and contributed to my negative thoughts surrounding it.
The first trouble I came across, probably not even 20 pages in, was the complete disconnect I felt for Grace and Gavin. I couldn’t comprehend the interest she had in him even when they first met, in part because of the way the story’s told. Though it’s never fully explained, I believe it’s supposed to be Grace telling Gavin the story of their relationship after they separate. As a result, there’s a lot of reflections that start off like “…and this is when the trouble began” or “If only I knew what was in store for us”. While it’s a storytelling tactic I usually like, here it just made me that much aware of what an asshole Gavin was from the get go. I definitely didn’t fall in love alongside Grace, making me less sympathetic than I think I would have been had that connection been established. Another thing that could have aided in this was making Grace’s family less of a caricature. They are literally the worst, in a pretty ridiculous, Cinderella’s stepfamily, type of a way. It did present the perfect breeding ground for understanding why Grace felt she needed an escape, but everyone was just too villain-y. Demetrios set all the right pieces into place, but never gave them a deeper evaluation or reason for readers to see beyond the role they’d been cast in. Grace herself is pretty flat, largely a pawn in this story with no interesting voice or unique perspective to offer up.
Granted, there are a lot of things done well with Bad Romance. From the textbook experience I have with domestic abuse, the evolution of Grace and Gavin’s relationship fits the bill to a tee. Demetrios also never tries to present it as a twisted version of love, and makes clear how toxic such a dynamic is. I also believe it’s one of the first books of it’s kind written for young adult people, so opening that door has to be worth something.
It’s my hope this book has laid the groundwork for more of its kind, and promoted a powerful message. For me, it just wasn’t strong enough on its technical merits- as I was constantly searching for something more. Worth the read.