After her 18-year-old sister runs away to escape the pressure of living out their parents’ visions of her future, 16-year-ols Caitlin begins acting out. Behaving both in ways to fill and reject the expectations left behind by the absence of her sister, she becomes a cheerleader and starts dating a wealthy drug dealing 5th year senior named Rogerson. Well after it is revealed he is a victim of physical abuse by his father, Rogerson begins abusing Caitlin very suddenly. It continues for months in private until the first time he hits her in public, in front of her house when her parents are hosting a huge annual Labor Day party. He is arrested but shortly released. She is enrolled in an inpatient treatment facility for her chronic marijuana abuse, where she heals through improved relationships with her support system, therapy, and being alone with herself.
Though the novel has many flaws, there is an honest portrayal of a survivor not wanting the relationship to end, helping cover the abuse, being addicted to the calm after a period of violence, and the ways anxiety grows and consumes survivors while they are in a violent relationship. Caitlin very realistically flees to drug use to numb the stress of her parental, cheerleading, and romantic relationships. She doesn’t want the relationship to end even throughout the abuse, and well after her forced separation from him. While that is disappointing to many secondary survivors, it is realistic. Sarah Dessen paints a clear picture of parental pressure damaging youth mental health and familial relationships, acting as a powerful cautionary tale for parents. Caitlin ultimately receives months of intensive therapeutic help which is shown to be incredibly transformative for her.
To not mislead our readers, the flaws of this 2000 publication should be named:
- Several transphobic comments- though there are no trans characters
- General disrespect to lower class folks
- There were little warning signs of control prior to Rogerson’s violence. It’s more common to see abusive behavior escalate over time
- Over emphasizes that Caitlin’s actions are why the abuse was a secret, when the reality is that abusive partners will also control narratives
- Over emphasizes physical abuse as the only type of abuse
Who Should Read It?
- Folks struggling to understand why someone would stay in an abusive relationship
- Teens 13+