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AmberJ

Following the Leader (Amber J.)

Just along for the ride

Flawed - Kate Avelynn “You don’t have to change in the bathroom,” James says. When I turn around, startled, I see he’s shifted around to face his headboard. “You know I won’t peek.”I shouldn’t feel weird about changing in front of James— we’ve shared a room our whole lives, so it’s not like we haven’t seen each other before— but I can’t help it. I may hate seeing his bruises, but I worry seeing all of his failures etched into my skin would kill my brother.Okay.I loved this book.I hated this book.And, with the exception of James and Liz, in the end everybody got what they deserved.The ending actually angered me the most because even though the protag, Sarah, does make a final choice, which could (and probably should) have been the conclusion and just left us readers to debate whether or not she made the "right" choice, it seems the author herself struggled with choosing between her characters and added on extra material, which didn't feel completely inorganic to the trajectory of the story, but it definitely felt forced and unsatisfying. It felt like Avelynn went back and forth and couldn't settle on a choice so she finally decided to just duck behind the message: You should choose yourself, above all. But the way she got us there crystallized my soul, and then pushed it off a cliff, and left it in a million shattered pieces on the ground.That's not to say that the ending was predictable - I didn't "see it coming a mile away" or anything like that (although I'm pretty sure some other readers will). The question Sarah ultimately has to answer is: Would you choose to follow your heart and leave town for a promising future with the love of your (short-lived) life OR would you abide by the childhood promise you made to your brother to stay?That doesn't seem like a really hard choice to make, until you consider the fact that Sarah and her only sibling, James, have endured years of physical and emotional abuse at the hands of their bitter, has-been boxer father and were ignored by their groupie-turned-druggie mother. When they were children James promised Sarah he would always protect her, as long as she promised to never leave him. So for over a decade James has taken the brunt of the beatings and the belt whippings, he's literally jumped in front of Sarah to absorb the blows meant for her, he has been Sarah's force field. He also financially supports Sarah. And, in return, Sarah gives him the love and emotional support he needs...until she falls hard for a boy.I feel the premise is somewhat misleading. We're told that "Sam Donavon has been James’ best friend — and the boy Sarah’s had a crush on — for as long as she can remember. As their forbidden relationship deepens, Sarah knows she’s in trouble. Quiet, serious Sam has decided he’s going to save her." The problem is Sam at no point in this novel acts even remotely close to what a best friend should be. Like imagine if your best friend knew your parent was abusing you for years, and did absolutely nothing about it; does that seem logical to you? James' "friends" hide behind the "I knew something was up, but James said he could handle it" excuse. Really? Yeah, of course now that he's a grown man, but could he handle it when he was 16? 13?! And the crazy thing is that Sam has someone he could have told who would have been very willing to help James and Sarah: Liz, the best fictional mom ever. It seems like all Sam is interested in is hooking up with Sarah and whisking her away to California. I wouldn't have even known that Sam and James were friends if Sarah hadn't told us over and over and over.I do like that this book explores the cycle of domestic violence. James truly embodies the belief: Hurt people, hurt. Jimmy had to abandon his bright boxing career to get a 9-to-5 at the paper mill to take care of his growing family, and he took all the anger he harbored from being robbed of living his dream out on his wife and children. James has suffered Jimmy's abuse for most of his life, and is morphing into an angry, possessive, impulsive man very much like his father. But James' has moments of clarity where he's so exposed and he realizes he's devolving into a monster, and those made me really sad because you can see that with the right assistance he doesn't have to meet the same fate as his father but all Sarah basically does is try talk him down so he's not an immediate danger, instead of seeking a lasting solution like therapy or a friend-tervention or something substantial.I feel like there's this underlying - albeit unintended - message that if you're a boy going through trauma like this, don't expect to get help. No one's coming to your rescue, so just deal with it, repeat the cycle because that's what everyone expects to to happen anyway, let the madness overtake you. People are only interested in saving the girls, so if you're a manchild just take the abuse and walk it off.And this aspect of the book that pissed me off: nobody, and I mean nobody, really gives a damn about James. Obviously, he is broken - damaged by his father's handiwork - and his sister and his "friends" know this, but none of them try to help him...well, help him in a way that actually makes sense. But when it comes to Sarah, everybody wants to come to her rescue: Sam, Liz, neanderthal Alex, and of course James.And I understand that Sarah's been through the same Hell as James and has been preyed upon by their dad, but because of Sam she undergoes a subtle spiritual growth - her internal monologue develops from a somewhat childish girl, dependent primarily on her brother, to a young woman who learns how to be strong and defend herself and envisions a future outside of Granite Falls and far away from her troubled past. So I feel by the end she's capable of being the rock that James was for her, and it's not asking too much to get him settled before she goes off to live her new life.I really have to praise Avelynn for the seamless flow of [b:Flawed|13503247|Flawed|Kate Avelynn|http://d.gr-assets.com/books/1353703543s/13503247.jpg|19052067]. Although the novel takes place over a very short period - a few weeks during the summer - you still feel like you've gotten a full story and you're fully engrossed in the characters' lives and the plot has worked itself out without being rushed. Even the Sam-Sarah relationship didn't feel like insta-love. This is at least partly due to the fact that we spend A LOT of time in Sarah's head, but that was totally fine because it’s easy for me to love a novel that’s more about story (emotional arc) than plot (event progression) if it’s compelling, and this book had me hooked.I also feel the author was careful and deliberate with her words and the characterizations of this small cast. For instance, I realized the characters shared the same flaw: they needed a fix - a way to anesthetize themselves to cope with the darkness of their reality. For Jimmy it's alcohol, for Mom it's drugs, for James it's alcohol and drugs and fighting, and Sarah openly admits: "Sam’s like a drug, kissing me higher and higher until nothing and no one matters anymore". I, myself, am a purple prose fiend, and I start to get the shakes and itchies if I'm deprived of rhetoric on the darker side of violet for too long. So it was a nice surprise that Avelynn drew me in with her simple and elegant phrasing and sentence structure that was straight-to-the-point - not a single word was wasted.This book drove me nuts, dragged me thru a gamut of emotions from fury to joy, got me to be so invested in the lives of imaginary people, and weeks later it's still eating away at me - and I think that is the sign of a good book.LESSONS LEARNED: 1)Don't punish the victim 2)Not all victims are women 3)A lifetime of sacrifice is worth a few moments of reciprocationMY TWO CENTS: Sam: You are an awesome BF and the world's suckiest BFF; Sarah: You made the right choice (and if you had also chosen not to lie to you-know-who the whole time things would have ended better); Alex: Don't breed; Liz: you are filled with so much warmth and strength you remind me of my mom; Jimmy: The fires of Hell are too good for you; James: You deserved SO much more than the life you were givenNote: People will most likely compare this book to [b:Forbidden|7600924|Forbidden|Tabitha Suzuma|http://d.gr-assets.com/books/1302655056s/7600924.jpg|10018976], and even though I liked that book as well, the stories are very different because in Flawed, the sister is not really a complicit partner in the incestual love drama.