Bitter End is a contemporary YA novel by Jennifer Brown.
Alex is spending her senior year of high school trying to put the finishing touches on her after graduation trip to Colorado with best friends Bethany and Zack. The three have been close since such a young age that the fact that Zack is now an athlete lady-lover, Bethany is an organizing, humantarian-in-training, and Alex is a budding poet doesn't cause them to split into different cliques. It's always been them, and it always will be.
And Alex is happy to have that stability as her father continues to not really say much of anything since her mother's death when Alex was young. Alex yearns to hear more about her Mom, why her Mom left that night drunk and insistent on going to Colorado, but she never receives any answers and has learned to stop asking. Her younger sister Celia doesn't seem to care, and her older sister Shannin has left for college without needing to seek more closure. But for Alex there never seems to be any closure. That is how the trip to Colorado was born - Alex knew that as soon as she was able, she wanted to go to where her Mom died in the car crash that fatal day and see what it was that was more important than her daughters. She needs to know that it was something meaningful. She needs to understand.
But before all the final planning is over and the first half of senior is even close to concluding, Alex has a new student, Cole, to tutor. He transferred in his senior year and has that athletic, attractive quality that can't help but fluster Alex a bit. The more incredible thing is that he's interested in her. Before she knows it they are dating and she's spending all her time with him. He doesn't like her friendship with Zack, and admits he gets jealous - which feels like compliment. But he starts to get more angry. And over time it seems to be getting worse.
Yet they talk about family and they seem to understand each other so well - and when he tells her he loves her, it's bliss. But as her time with Zack and Bethany reaches near zero as Cole's rage reaches a new peak, Alex's love turns to fear.
Right away I could tell that we were in for a fast read with a true to the heart journey. Jennifer Brown writes relatable, realistic characters and dialogue and quickly wraps you up in their lives. Bitter End is slowly but surely terrifying as Alex's relationship with Cole is almost immediately controlling and all-consuming.
You can't help but be frustrated with Alex and her refusal to see the telltale signs of abuse and cruelty, but you're also sympathetic to her denial and hunger for love. It's heart-wrenching to watch as Cole wrecks her life, unknowingly to her, and deliberately places himself as her only "friend". It is painful and hard to read at times, and grows increasingly so as Bitter End continues.
Jennifer Brown presents the chilling verbal and mental control and abuse and expertly leads us down the scary path to those first violent outbursts in a believable way. It is psychologically spot-on and has such a beautifully vulnerable and sad tone.
Bitter End is horrifying - steadily becoming more and more intense, it made me sick to my stomach. It is an excellent portrayal of abuse and an excellently written novel - up there with the likes of Sarah Dessen!
*I received a review copy of Bitter End from Hachette Book Group. Their generosity in no way influenced, nor sought to influence, my opinion of the novel.
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