Thursday, June 9, 2016

BOOK REVIEW: Suffer Love / Ashley Herring Blake

TITLE: Suffer Love
AUTHOR: Ashley Herring Blake
PUBLISHER: HMH Books for Young Readers

Young Adult - Contemporary/Romance

"In Romeo and Juliet, the stars didn't cross. They collided." That's a line from SUFFER LOVE that perfectly sums it up, and that will stick with me for a long time (disclaimer: I was typing that from memory, so it might not be *exactly* as it is in the novel). This stunning contemporary YA romance is told from the POVs of Hadley and Sam, two teens from dysfunctional families whose relationship, as the tagline says, was complicated before they ever met.

The official description leaves out exactly how it's complicated, but it's not hard to guess (and gets revealed pretty early on), so I don't think it's a spoiler. Hadley's family is still reeling from her father's recent affair with an unknown woman, with her parents in marriage counseling and her doing her best to keep pretending everything's okay. Meanwhile, Sam and his little sister move into town after their father left them because of their mom's infidelity - and Sam knows exactly who the Other Man is. He's instantly attracted to Hadley and somewhat thrilled when he's paired with her for a Shakespeare assignment... until he learns her last name and realizes that the Other Man was her dad. Holy moly, there's no way this can end well... especially since Sam can't bring himself to tell Hadley what's going on.

This dramatic irony creates a simmering tension throughout the whole story, which follows Hadley and Sam's emotional struggles with life, their families, and each other. While their romance is at the heart of the story, it's just one piece of a profound exploration of the characters' lives - how each of them handles the difficult realities they live in. Both characters are wonderfully written with voices that feel genuine and relatable, yet are very distinct from each other. Sometimes strong, sometimes vulnerable, sometimes cautious, sometimes impulsive - complex people in complex situations, making choices that aren't always the best ones, but ring true. I found myself instantly pulled in and tore through the whole thing in about two days (at one point staying up far too late, but no regrets!).

I loved that this is something of an unconventional romance, with characters who aren't your typical romantic leads. Hadley's gained a reputation around school for being a tease, since one of the ways she copes with her parents' relationship falling apart is by seeking comfort and escape in the arms of boys. The novel aims to blast apart the stigma surrounding girls who like to hook up by exploring Hadley's motivations and emotions, as well as showing how she deals with the subsequent slut-shaming. Sam, meanwhile, is simultaneously older than his years and a confused teen. With his dad gone and his mom somewhat absent, he's taken it upon himself to act as his little sister's surrogate parent. Yet he's still a kid himself, and the tension between the two sides of him help create an interesting and multifaceted personality. Also worth noting is that I loved the role that Sam's little sister (Livy) played - the sibling relationship between her and Sam, the developing friendship between her and Hadley, her own feelings and confusion around her parents' split.

This was a book that gave me ALL THE FEELS and left me somewhat stunned at the end, like "whoa, that was awesome, and I don't know whether to smile or weep or smile-weep or WHAT!" The stars collided, love was suffered, and the complicated got even more complicated. And I loved every moment.

Ashley Herring Blake is a poet, teacher, and YA novelist. Her debut novel, SUFFER LOVE, follows two teens as they attempt to wade through an intense relationship complicated by their parents' infidelities. Ashley lives in Nashville, TN.

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