The Things You Kiss Goodbye by Leslie Connor
Bettina has been raised in a very strict family. She’s not allowed to do anything other than attend dance classes, which ended when her best friend moved away. Otherwise it is only school and home. So when a very sweet basketball player at school asks her out, she is forced to say no. But he doesn’t accept that and manages to charm Bettina’s family enough that she is allowed to go out with him. At first everything is wonderful and Brady is a perfect boyfriend, who takes things very slow and doesn’t pressure. But as they date more, Brady begins to change. He gets angrier as pressure goes up on the basketball court. Then Bettina meets a man who is everything that Brady isn’t. He doesn’t ask for anything from her, never gets mad, and Bettina finds herself longing to spend more time with him even though her family would never approve. Bettina knows she has to leave Brady before he hurts her more badly, but as she hesitates something happens so that the truth of the two men in her life must be revealed.
Connor captures an abusive relationship with a delicacy that allows the reader to begin to rationalize what happens to Bettina along with her. This is not straight-forward beatings, but rather teasing taken too far, anger expressed in the wrong way, and as Bettina learns to tiptoe around Brady the reader realizes that they too have been drawn into the wrong relationship alongside her. It is powerfully done. When Connor adds the character of Cowboy to the book, it is a surprising choice. His gentleness and quiet in an older man makes for a charismatic character unusual in teen novels. While he is a foil for the young and angry Brady, he is also himself a complicated and intriguing figure.
Connor seems to write only complicated characters, much to her credit. Bettina is a girl who is eager to leave the confines of her upbringing, pushing against her parents’ control. Yet even her parents are completely drawn characters, struggling to do their best for their daughter. The book plays with overprotective parents who don’t manage to protect their daughter from anything in the end. Yet their love is what lingers beyond that.
A powerful read with moments of breathlessness from surprise and shock, this book is not only about an abusive relationship but about true love and hope too. Appropriate for ages 14-17.
Reviewed from digital copy received from Edelweiss and Katherine Tegen Books.