Review: The Dangerous Art of Blending In by Angelo Surmelis

Title: The Dangerous Art of Blending In

Author: Angelo Surmelis

Pub. Date: January 30th, 2018

Genre: YA Contemporary/LGBTQIA+

Publisher: Balzer + Bray/Harper

Pages: 336

Format: eGalley

Content Warning: Physical abuse, homophobia, emotional abuse, and child abuse, bullying, Suicidal thoughts

*HUGE thanks to Balzer + Bray/Harper, Edelweiss, and Angelo Surmelis for the early review copy in exchange for my honest opinion

   

Seventeen-year-old Evan Panos doesn’t know where he fits in. His strict Greek mother refuses to see him as anything but a disappointment. His quiet, workaholic father is a staunch believer in avoiding any kind of conflict. And his best friend Henry has somehow become distractingly attractive over the summer.

Tired, isolated, scared—Evan’s only escape is drawing in an abandoned church that feels as lonely as he is. And, yes, he kissed one guy over the summer. But it’s his best friend Henry who’s now proving to be irresistible. It’s Henry who suddenly seems interested in being more than friends. And it’s Henry who makes him believe that he’s more than his mother’s harsh words and terrifying abuse. But as things with Henry heat up, and his mother’s abuse escalates, Evan has to decide how to find his voice in a world where he has survived so long by avoiding attention at all costs.

Where to begin? well first I’d like to refer everyone to the content warning up above. This wasn’t a easy book to read but then again I know it couldn’t have been easy to write either. The author wrote this book based on his personal childhood experiences & so this is Ownvoices for LGBTQIA+ and child abuse. I requested this title from Harper once I read the synopsis & found that something about this character resonated deep within me. This review will be a mix of my thoughts on the book & my own personal experience which is something I rarely if ever talk about. I’ve never wanted to be proven wrong so badly but when I met Evan Panos on the pages, I knew I was in trouble. My childhood experiences at home ran parallel to Evans or really to the author himself with regards to child abuse. There is nothing pretty about what went on behind closed doors for Evan & being silenced by your abuser is the norm. Telling our stories isn’t something we do because child abuse is a very ugly thing & many aren’t prepared to hear about it. From personal experience, as someone who was silenced by my own family, this “story” rings true & my heart broke in a million pieces at the extent to which Evan went to hide his ugly truths.

Evan Panos is a only child living at home with both mom & dad, on the outside they appear to be the perfect Greek family. He is a talented artist & loves to sketch whenever he can as a means of escape. His mother, a extremely religious woman will go above and beyond to keep up appearances. His dad is a hard working man who loves his son but unfortunately doesn’t have the courage to put a stop to the abuse going on at home. Evan’s mother considers homosexuality a sin & although Evan hasn’t come out or even really had the chance to embrace who he is to himself, his mother makes it known on a daily basis that she knows he is Gay. We see Evan doing good in school and being a all around good kid but that isn’t enough for his mom who is determined to beat sin out of him. We see Evan walking on egg shells while home trying not to trigger another attack from his mother but his very existence is enough for her to go off. She physically beats him & emotionally breaks him down every chance she gets. She vocalizes her hatred for him & goes as far as wishing she never had him. Evan is numb at this point & we see him take it and never once actually break down. He’s become a master at hiding his wounds both inside & out, something his mother has taught him to do. I’d like to point out here, many times his bruises were on his face & although others questioned & suspected abuse at home… NO ONE ever really pressed the matter & this is something that unfortunately happens every day. It is easier to accept the lie the victim gives than accept the unthinkable truth. Although Evans mother mostly attacks him when his dad is away, there is no denying that his father knows what is going on at home. Their trips to the Doughnut shop was his Dads way of taking Evan out of the toxic home for a couple of hours. This was something my own father did for me & at the time it felt like a lifeline, now as an adult I understand so much more what those trips to get ice cream really were.

There is a love interest that plays a big part of Evans life, his childhood best friend Henry. The only reason they were allowed to be friends was because Evan’s mom set out to convert Henry’s parents into her religion. Their friendship runs through High School & becomes more than just platonic. It isn’t easy though, Henry knows something is going on at home but his life & parents are the exact opposite of Evans. Henry has a supportive home & his place becomes sort of like a refuge for Evan. I wanted to really like Henry, but unfortunately this is where I shook my head no. Evan is pretty numb all around & sometimes his answers just roll off the tongue in order to keep people away from his personal life. Henry has just come out as Gay to his family & receives all their love & support. My issue was with how much he pressured Evan all around. I understood Henry wanting Evan to leave his toxic home (been there myself & had someone try this for me) but I also understand how it feels to be in Evans shoes. What I can’t imagine is what it must feel like to also be pressured to come out as Gay & that is why Henry really rubbed me the wrong way.

I would’ve much rather he supported Evan & encouraged him to get help to get out of his abusive home more than his focus on them as a couple. I was happy to see that Evan had found another home & another example of what a supportive family looks like even if it was Henry’s. I myself found a home that showed me love & support and ultimately gave me the strength I needed to leave. From this book I wanted a ending that empowered others to seek out their peace of mind away from any form of abuse. Did I get that? Ultimately, yes! and no it wasn’t with Henry. If I had a book like this when I was a child/teen, I’ll be honest & say I may have hated seeing the truth written on the pages but by the end I know I would’ve also been emboldened to get help. I read the author’s note & the inner turmoil he had within himself to share his story is one that I’ve felt many times and still experience. Another well known author who is also his best friend, advised him to give the story to someone else. This is how Evan came about & through this character he was able to share something that not many are ready to hear. This book won’t be for everyone, the abuse is very raw & the wounds are deep but for those who have experienced it or still are…maybe this book will give you hope & strength to find your safe space.

The author shared some helpful links at the end of this book…

LGBTQ ORGANIZATIONS The Trevor Project—www.thetrevorproject.org

It Gets Better Project—www.itgetsbetter.org

LGBT National Help Center—www.glbthotline.org

ABUSE National Child Abuse Hotline 1-800-4-A-CHILD (1-800-422-4453) and its affiliate, Childhelp—www.childhelp.org

BULLYING Stomp Out Bullying—www.stompoutbullying.org

StopBullying—www.stopbullying.gov


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Bad Romance by Heather Demetrios

29102896Bad Romance by Heather Demetrios

Publisher: Macmillan

Publication Date: June 13th, 2017

Genre: YA Contemporary

Pages: 368 pages

Format: eGalley (Netgalley)

Rating: ★★★★ (4 Stars)

 

*Trigger Warning: Domestic Violence, Mental/physical/verbal abuse, attempted suicide, and rape

 

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Grace wants out. Out of her house, where her stepfather wields fear like a weapon and her mother makes her scrub imaginary dirt off the floors. Out of her California town, too small to contain her big city dreams. Out of her life, and into the role of Parisian artist, New York director—anything but scared and alone.

Enter Gavin: charming, talented, adored. Controlling. Dangerous. When Grace and Gavin fall in love, Grace is sure it’s too good to be true. She has no idea their relationship will become a prison she’s unable to escape.

Deeply affecting and unflinchingly honest, this is a story about spiraling into darkness—and emerging into the light again.

MY FIRST IMPRESSIONS ON GOODREADS…

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Bad Romance is one of those books that will remain within me for years to come as a reminder of what could’ve been had I continued in my own toxic relationship. This book resonated with me for personal reasons but also stood out amongst all the Young Adult Contemporaries I’ve read so far in 2017. This isn’t a easy fluffy summer time read however, it is a much needed one. Bad Romance can be used as a conversation starter within the Young Adult community & help bridge gaps between Young Adults and their parents. Demetrios gives us Grace who is 17 going on 18 in High School with BIG dreams of one day living an artsy bohemian life in New York City. She lives with her mother, step-father, and baby brother from her mothers re-marriage. Life isn’t at all easy for Grace who doesn’t live a typical teenage life. She lives in a abusive home where toxic behaviors are what she’s come to view as normal. Told in second person POV, Grace is observing the changes in her relationship with her mother as her mother slowly becomes unhinged. See, Grace’s mother herself is the victim of verbal, mental, and physical abuse (implied) at the hands of her husband. Demtrios shows us a mother trying to keep her new family together while she teeters on the verge of a mental breakdown. Grace on the other hand has just caught the attention of the most popular guy in school who she knows comes with his own baggage. From the 1st compliment to the 1st date & what eventually leads to a volatile relationship, we the reader are taken on the slow progression that is Grace & Gavin’s own toxic relationship. Gavin knows just what to say at all times & just how to get his way. From afar he seems like the perfect boyfriend but when we start this story, it is with the knowledge Grace has already learned the hard way. She shows us how easy it was to fall for someone who was already broken when all you’ve known all your life is abuse…

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Center stage we have Grace & Gavin but this is a story where the supporting character roles are all equally as important. The Grace we meet on page 1 already knows how everything unfolds since it’s told in second person POV. We get to see her regrets and the view she gives us can best be described as removing the rose colored glasses. Grace is just trying to get to graduation so that she can start her new life as a college student far away from her toxic home life. This means she’s learned how to deal with her mothers OCD as best she could & has learned to be submissive to avoid confrontation. Her relationship with her mother plays out on the pages giving you perspective on the cycle of abuse Grace is caught in through no fault of her own. We meet the step dad & he’s no easy pill to swallow which makes your heart break even more so for Grace’s mom.

Somehow, In the past five years, that mom disappeared. Little by little, she floated away, a leaf on the breeze. Now, the air between us is heavy; it’s been too long since we’ve laughed together, talked. How do you relearn love?

Gavin almost seems like a savior when Grace first meets him. She is aware of his troubled past & his failed suicide attempt yet that doesn’t keep her away, it actually serves to lure her in. She admires his resolve and rocker lifestyle but most of all it’s the attention he provides her with that she holds on to. For a girl like Grace who already feels invisible at home except for when she’s needed to scrub the floors or babysit, this new attention became a drug. Gavin himself suffers with depression, anxiety, and paranoia. There isn’t a moment that goes by that he isn’t thinking, living, breathing Grace.

We also meet Nat & Lys who are best friends with Grace, these girls are the true definition of friendship. They know their girl is in a toxic abusive relationship and encourage her to leave that behind every chance they get. They don’t ever leave her side but they also don’t sugar coat anything & didn’t enable her to continue on with Gavin. This friendship was the sunshine in Graces’ very dark, turbulent, and abusive life. I kept hope alive for all of these characters & found myself relating to Grace but ultimately accepting that just like my own toxic relationship with my mother, some things are left unresolved. These characters are heavily flawed & rough around the edges, their pain often times jumping off the pages.

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I’ve never read a book like Bad Romance and I was absolutely caught off guard, this book  brought back memories of a past life. I can’t help but think that if this book had been written back then, that maybe I would have found solace in its pages. I was that young adult in a toxic relationship trying to escape my real issues at home with my own mother. This won’t be an easy read & that’s why I decided to include trigger warnings in this review. Emotionally draining, heartbreaking, and flinchingly honest, Demetrios gives you the ugly raw insides of abusive relationships. Inspired by the authors personal experience, Bad Romance is as real as it gets. Demtrios tackles topics that are more often than not kept hidden in shame & suffered alone. As tough as it was to read this book, I can’t deny that it was because I saw myself in these pages. I’ll be looking out for more from this author and others, especially writing that exposes the ugly in order to start the healing. This is not a story with a happy ending, this is a story with hope & a message for those who may or may not be ready to receive it…

In the Authors Note, Demtrios provided some helpful organizations & I’ve decided to also include them in my review:

Dayoneny.org

Breakthecycle.org

Nomore.org

*HUGE thanks to Macmillan/Henry Holt & Co., Netgalley & Heather Demetrios for the eGalley copy of Bad Romance, all opinions are my own.

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Photo Credit: http://www.healthycellsmagazine.com/articles/when-teenagers-dating-violence-and-abuse

Review: The Roanoke Girls by Amy Engel

30689335The Roanoke Girls by Amy Engel

Published by: Crown Publishing

Publication Date: March 7th 2017

Genre: Adult Fiction/Mystery/Contemporary

Pages: 276 pages

Format: eGalley

Rating: ★★★★ (4 STARS)

Trigger Warning: suicide & sexual abuse

*HUGE thanks to Penguin Random House/Penguin’s First to Read & Amy Engel for the eGalley of The Roanoke Girls

 

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Roanoke girls never last long around here. In the end, we either run or we die.

After her mother’s suicide, fifteen year-old Lane Roanoke came to live with her grandparents and fireball cousin, Allegra, on their vast estate in rural Kansas. Lane knew little of her mother’s mysterious family, but she quickly embraced life as one of the rich and beautiful Roanoke girls. But when she discovered the dark truth at the heart of the family, she ran fast and far away.

Eleven years later, Lane is adrift in Los Angeles when her grandfather calls to tell her Allegra has gone missing. Did she run too? Or something worse? Unable to resist his pleas, Lane returns to help search, and to ease her guilt at having left Allegra behind. Her homecoming may mean a second chance with the boyfriend whose heart she broke that long ago summer. But it also means facing the devastating secret that made her flee, one she may not be strong enough to run from again.

As it weaves between Lane’s first Roanoke summer and her return, The Roanoke Girls shocks and tantalizes, twisting its way through revelation after mesmerizing revelation, exploring the secrets families keep and the fierce and terrible love that both binds them together and rips them apart.

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I picked up The Roanoke Girls not knowing a thing about the plot or premise other than it was making waves in the blogosphere & sometimes that makes for the best possible reading experience. I’m glad I had no clue what I was getting into, this book definitely was dark & twisted with a bit of shock factor working for it. Told in first person point of view, the main protagonist Lane is living her life in NYC when she gets a call from her grandad letting her know that her cousin has gone missing & that she needs to come home. Lane reluctantly heads back to Roanoke, the one place she swore to never return to. There are a ton of secrets, mystery, hurt, and cover-ups in Roanoke that Lane can’t seem to escape. I immediately started asking myself questions as to what could possibly make Lane stay away from her grandparents home. She opted to leave to NYC where life is not at as easy as it would be if she’d stayed at Roanoke with her wealthy family. As the plot unravels you realize how deep the secrets go & that Lane is just one from generations of Roanoke women that can’t seem to escape the manipulation and abuse in the Roanoke home. I was not expecting this book to go the direction that it did & yes I am purposely being vague because I don’t want to spoil it for anyone trying to read it. It is the darkest book I’ve read to date and seriously made me question the psyche of these characters from all angles. The air of mystery is held throughout the book until the very end since we are from the very start trying to figure out what happened to Allegra? did she run away? or is she dead in a ditch somewhere like everyone thought she was fated to end up? & while Lane attempts to solve this mystery, we are also being exposed to the family secrets one by one…

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I don’t believe I’ve ever come across a cast of characters this messed up smh. Our main protagonist Lane is carrying some serious baggage from childhood that stems back to her relationship with her mother. Lane’s mom fled Roanoke while pregnant with her but she never truly escaped her past & lived a life of sadness where she cried daily and couldn’t actually have a relationship with Lane. Her mom carried the Roanoke secrets buried deep within her & committed suicide when she was 15 which meant that Lane would be sent to live with her grandparents (next of kin) back at Roanoke. The book is told by a now adult Lane who has flashbacks to the summer she arrived at Roanoke after her mother committed suicide. We meet Allegra in the flashbacks & for those of you who have watched the show Pretty Little Liars, Allegra is the equivalent of Allison & that’s as close a comparison as I’ve ever seen one haha! She is energetic & oftentimes frenetic. Allegra is ecstatic to have Lane join them at Roanoke & we get to follow the girls that summer while they date & even fall in love. We also get to see how the extent of the abuse they’ve experienced affects their relationships with their boyfriends at the time. Lane considers herself unworthy and therefore sets out to destroy whatever good she comes across through toxic behavior. I am not kidding when I say EVERYONE in this book is messed up but the Roanoke girls have it the worse. Paraphrasing here but one of the characters actually mentioned that there are messed up families & then there’s reallllly messed up when he referred to Lane’s own family. They were all twisted enough to stay in my psyche for quite a bit, this book won’t be for everyone but I found these characters interesting & they kept me wondering at all hours of the night.

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The formatting of this book kept me completely captivated, alternating between the present & the summer Lane arrived in Roanoke was interesting enough. However, I also really enjoyed the excerpts written in third person POV for all of the Roanoke girls who suffered the same fate while living in the Roanoke household. I couldn’t put this book down for too long, I needed to find out the truth but also Lane felt like a loose cannon the majority of the time & I couldn’t keep my eyes from reading just to see what she would do next. A page turner that for sure will make you uncomfortable but I think this speaks to the authors skilled writing. This book won’t be for everyone however, I enjoyed it probably because I gravitate towards complex characters. Given, this is on a whole other level of complicated but still, it made me feel several emotions & that was enough for me to know that this was a solid read my bookish peeps 😉

Have any of you read The Roanoke Girls? If so, what are your thoughts? If you reviewed The Roanoke Girls, feel free to drop that link down below & i’ll swing by your corner of the inter-webs 😉