I have a lot, and I mean, a lot of feelings when it comes to this book. Let me try and write a full review (something I haven’t done in a while but this book deserves more than a few lines).
So, first I’d like to say that I buddy read this book with my friend Melanie from meltotheany and I’m so thankful I was able to read this book with her. I had an amazing time, and discussing this book with her made it even more special to me.
In this book you follow two teenagers, Connell and Marianne. They’ve lived in this same small town in Ireland since they were born and have known each other since they were kids. Connell is pretty popular at school, he plays football and is well-loved from basically everybody. On the contrary Marianne is quite lonely, people see her as weird and too self-obsessed. On the paper they have nothing in common. Except Connell’s mom, Lorraine, who is payed to clean Marianne’s house. That’s basically it. But the thing is, maybe they have feelings for each other, and maybe someone named Connell doesn’t want the school to know about them because he’s scared it’ll ruin his reputation. Yeah, I know. So that’s where the story starts, that’s the synopsis of the first chapter for you, the basic premise of this book. They like each other, but. The ‘but’ is important here.
I want to say that this book isn’t for everybody. I totally recognise that. You have a dual narrative told in third person with no real dialogues. It took me a few chapters to get used to it, but once I did I must admit I loved it. I was talking about this with Melanie and she perfectly described this writing style: it’s soothing. It’s very peculiar, but it adds something to the story. I found myself unable to stop reading, it pushed me to continue, one more page after one more page.
It’s also a book that has a very weird timeline. You start the book in January 2011 and finish it in February 2015, each chapter taking place at a different time. It means that a lot of things happen between each chapter, but you don’t know what until you read about, until you get told about it. Personally I liked it. It kept the story moving. It made it possible to have some good character growth and character development in such a short book.
Something I loved about this book is how it explored unhappiness. Marianne is a very unhappy girl. Her family is abusive, she is bullied at school and once she’s at college she’s surrounded by people who both love her and want to make her feel like she’s less than enough, people who love making fun of her in front of everybody because it makes them feel good and powerful. She spends the entire of the book believing that she is not worthy of anything, and it broke my heart, again and again. And then we have Connell who at first doesn’t seem like he could ever be unhappy. His mom is wonderful (I want to marry her), people at school find him wonderful, but then he goes to college and suddenly everything isn’t so bright. Where Marianne finally finds her voice and people, Connell finds himself unable to connect with other people who aren’t Marianne. At some point in the book he starts suffering from depression with suicidal thoughts, takes medicine and goes to therapy. It’s very raw and if you’re not prepared for it, his depression can feel like a punch because of how realistically it’s described.
This book deals mental health, but it also talks about sexual assault. Marianne gets assaulted by an older man once as a ‘joke’, because yes grabbing someone’s boob is so funny, wow, hilarious, make it even funnier by grabbing the boob so fucking hard it hurts, can’t stop laughing. Connell also gets sexually assaulted by one of his former teachers who made him feel very uncomfortable when he still was at school because she was obviously flirting him with him even though he was 1. her student, 2. a minor. That’s illegal ma’am and called pedophilia, who gave you the right to be a teacher?
When it comes to Connell and Marianne’s relationship, let’s say it’s complicated. This book is about them trying to understand what they are for each other, what their feelings mean. But it’s also about the power unbalance there is during most of the book between them. Indeed, Connell is the one having the upper hand here. We’re told and shown several times that Marianne would do anything for him, even things she wouldn’t want to do she’d do them if it’d make him happy. It’s deeply linked with her feeling like she’s unworthy, it’s part of her character growth. Connell somehow knows he has this power, but I don’t think he understands until late into the book how much power he actually has, and once he does it terrifies him. It’s very interesting to see their relationship develops, from not really friends to lovers to strangers to best friends to partners. You see their dynamic evolves, you see them influencing each other, growing and truly understand what it means to love each other. I just found it heartbreaking and beautiful at the same time to see this relationship grow from nothing.
Anyway, this is my very messy review, I’m not sure I made you want to pick up this book, but somehow (with a lot of luck) I hope I did. It’s a book I had an instant connection with, it reminded me a lot of one of my all time favourite books, Franny and Zooey, by J.D. Salinger. I love the way this book ended, it made me hopeful for both Connell and Marianne.
“Marianne had the sense that her real life was happening somewhere very far away, happening without her, and she didn’t know if she would ever find out where it was and become part of it.”