Usually, I'm the one person who hates a book that everyone else has loved. For once, that's not the case. I seem to be the only person who loved this book, and I can't understand why. This book is awesome. And for some reason, the reviews have been like 1-1-1-1-2-1-1 across the board. Huh.
One of my friends who have read this book described it as watching a train wreck. Yep, that's exactly it. It's watching a psychological train wreck as it unfolds, and I love every moment of it.
The main character in this book is a psycho bitch. She really, truly is. There's no kind way to put it. She's insane, she should be on medication, but surprise, surprise, like so many mentally ill people, she refuses to take her meds. The result is a psychological wreck from which you cannot look away.
I've worked in a mental hospital before. I've worked in an emergency room in downtown LA before, and so trust me when I tell you that the craziest people I know are neither hospitalized nor institutionalized. They live and walk among us. They're the sociopaths. Manipulative lovers, friends, those who will simply take things too far. Those who will take advantage of us. Those who will wring every ounce of sympathy out of a situation. Those who I like to call "emotional vampires" because they will suck the life out of you.
This is a book about one such person.
1. An amazing, realistic portrayal of mental illness. The emotional manipulation. The lies. The self-hate. The sense of knowing that one is sick, but not being able to control yourself or your thoughts. The sense of wrongness.
2. An excellent depiction of cheating. It deals with cheating in a manner that I felt was sensitive, that made me, who hates the matter, supportive of the people involved.
3. A nice guy. Seriously. I felt like the love interest within this book was awesome. He struggles a lot, dealing with a girlfriend who is mentally ill, and I supported him despite everything.
4. No slut shaming. The teens in this book sleep with each other. They cheat. I never got the sense of shame, of self-hate, of recrimination by others that there is something shameful in sexuality.
If you like psycho characters, if you revel in other people's suffering, this is the book for you.
“You haven’t gone off your meds or whatever, have you?” he asked quietly.
Lilah’s face fell in disbelief. “Are you really asking me that?”
“Like I said, I’m worried about you,” Carter said.
Lilah didn’t answer.
Once upon a time, Carter and Lilah were a fairytale. They have been dating since 9th grade, one of those rare couples who have stayed together throughout high school, supporting each other through thick and thin. Once upon a time, Lilah was a bright, sparkling young woman, filled with joy and life.
“You’ve got a spark in you. Like a drive, you know what I mean? I’m always so worried about doing the right thing that I wouldn’t have dared do that without you.”
Once upon a time, Lilah was normal.
It is now their senior year of high school, and the fairy tale looks more like a fever dream.
you haven’t gone off your meds or whatever, have you?” he asked quietly.
Lilah’s face fell in disbelief. “Are you really asking me that?”
It occurred to Carter that she hadn’t answered his question.
Lilah is sick. She is mentally ill. She needs to take her medications. She is self-destructive, she is paranoid. She has few friends, because slowly, she has driven them away through harassment and paranoia. A once-promising swimmer, Lilah has since been kicked off the team.
In her manic exhaustion, she searched down the phone numbers not only of Melissa, but also of the Coral Gables coach and the principal of the school. She’d called them so many times that they’d reported her to Coach Randolph and Lilah had been kicked off the team.
Carter still loves her, he still cares about her, but it seems like he's staying together more out of duty than love.
She quickly covered her cuts with her hand. “I thought you were going to leave me. After what I did,” she said.
The thought of what she might do if he broke up with her sent a cold spike plunging through his heart.
Lilah has slowly withdrawn into herself, but Carter manages to gently talk her into attending a party thrown by one of his best friends.
The party was a disaster. Lilah has a tendency to blow up minor events, and this party was no different.
She knew he wasn’t criticizing her—he was just trying to be funny, or cute or something. But she couldn’t help but feel like he should have just said thank you.
Small things add up, and before she knows it, Lilah has gone down on one of her downward spirals.
So she took another swig of rum and Coke. She couldn’t get drunk fast enough. It was the only way she knew how to escape the feeling that everyone here was laughing at her behind her back.
Before long, Lilah ends up on a roof, drunk, almost fallen to her death before she is rescued by Carter. Lilah's friends volunteer to take her home, leaving Carter there, wondering what the hell just happened. Exhausted and frightened as fuck, but finally able to relax.
Whether or not he wanted to admit it to himself, it was the first time he breathed all night.
But he's not alone in his contemplation. A girl is there, Jules. They start talking, and before they know it, Carter realizes that this girl is funny, she's smart, she's beautiful. She is normal. And despite himself, Carter can't help feeling the attraction.
He relaxed a tick. He couldn’t help it. She was so comfortable with herself—you could see it in her posture, in her easy conversation, in the way she was able to look at the things outside herself without worrying about how they related to her—that she put him at ease.
Then he gets a text from Lilah.
“WHYD U MAKE ME GO TO THAT PARTY?” it said.
Really, was it any contest?
This story is about Lilah, and Carter, and Jules. It is about a young man struggling to do the right thing, a young woman who just wants to be with him, knowing the challenges.
“It’s okay. I don’t expect you to all of a sudden be my boyfriend. I understand. You’ve been with her forever. I don’t want to be the girl who broke up the class couple.”
And the trouble girl standing in between them.
What she felt was fear. And rage. And a despair so huge and heavy she felt like it might smother her, weigh her down, pull her into the ground, where she’d be buried forever.
She struggled with all her might to stop the tears from falling down her cheeks. She understood that he felt he had been wronged. But didn’t he understand that she’d been wronged, too? She ached all over from how badly she’d been wronged.
Lilah is the mentally ill, emotionally manipulative main character, and I thought her character was brilliantly portrayed. She is not without sympathy. Lilah is seriously sick, she needs her medication, but she cannot be relied upon to take them. Lilah knows that there's something wrong with her. She is completely understanding of the fact that she is not right. She has reason, she sees reason, it's just that often, her brain overrides common sense.
She regretted every single thing she’d done, and her regret made her hate herself and her self-hatred filled her with an uncontrollable need to hear Carter tell her that everything was okay.
She has been with Carter for so long that he has become her life. He has become her identity, and she will stop at nothing to get him back. I thought her hurt and anger and lack of self-control was well-written.
“No. You don’t get to decide when I calm down.” Another surge of rage and she went at him with all the strength she contained. When he held her off with a stiff arm, she clamped her fingers into his arm and dug into his skin with her nails. He’d hurt her; why shouldn’t she hurt him back?
She’s so anxious, though. She needs me so much.” He furrowed his eyebrows. “And she holds on so tightly that she doesn’t realize she’s...killing us.”
Jules felt for him. She understood his fear. Walking away from love was hard—even if the love was bad.
“I don’t want to hurt her,” he said.
I bloody loved Carter. Yes, he cheats on Lilah, but there is so much guilt within him.
I know it's a stupid thing to say about a guy who cheats on his girlfriend, but I felt like Carter has so much integrity. I don't think it's a stretch to say that a lot of guys would just dump a troublesome girlfriend, particularly one during the volatile years of high school. Carter doesn't do that. He remains with Lilah. He feels a responsibility for her. He watches over her. He is more of a babysitter than a boyfriend at times, and he bears his tasks with such earnestness. I truly felt bad for him.
The thing with cheating is that you have to make the cheaters to be likeable, deeply sympathetic people and I felt like this book did that exceptionally well.
“So, look. Things with Lilah are—I don’t even know what they are. We’re going to talk later this afternoon. So, we’ll see. I need to figure things out in my head . . . and . . .” He blushed. “I mean, I should get my shit together before I start messing with yours. It’s not fair. It’s not fair to you and it’s not fair to Lilah. You know what I mean? I shouldn’t be starting new things with new people when I’m in the middle of a great big confusing thing already.”
There are a lot of insecurities, a lot of moral struggles, a lot of guilt. and I was wholly in support of Carter the entire time.
Jules: Oh, sure, she's a drama hipster, but I liked her a lot despite the fact. Maybe it's because she, in her own way, is damaged. She, too, is insecure. She is so refreshingly normal in contrast. Jules knows that Carter and Delilah are complicated. She didn't want to get caught up in the middle, but her attraction for Carter overreaches that common sense. Still, Jules is not clingy. She is reasonable. She gives Carter space to deal. She is not desperate to be loved.
“I get it. Hey, I don’t want to get involved in some crazy cheating thing, either.”
“So,” he said. “Friends?”
She wanted to take his hand in hers and tell him to let her know if he changed his mind. But she knew better than to do that.
Instead, she smirked. “Friends,” she said.
And have I mentioned that she has an awesome, awesome mother?
“Did you hear me?” she said. “It’s not your fault. You don’t have to own problems he’s created for himself. Okay?”
“But,” her mom said, arching her eyebrows, “be careful. Guys with girlfriends...they have no idea what they want. And they’ll charm you into thinking that it doesn’t matter. You should know that by now, given the example I’ve set for you.”
“I know,” Jules said. “You’re right. It’s just...”
Jules’s mom patted her hand, and then gave it a playful squeeze. “It’s just that they’re so hard to resist,” she said.
They smiled at each other, almost but not quite ashamed of this truth.