Published by Katherine Tegen Books on June 24th, 2014
Genres: Abuse, Contemporary, Romance, Young Adult
Bettina Vasilis can hardly believe it when basketball star Brady Cullen asks her out, and she just about faints when her strict father actually approves of him.
But when school starts up again, Brady changes. What happened to the sweet boy she fell in love with? Then she meets a smoldering guy in his twenties, and this “cowboy” is everything Brady is not—gentle, caring, and interested in getting to know the real Bettina.
Bettina knows that breaking up with Brady would mean giving up her freedom—and that it would be inappropriate for anything to happen between her and Cowboy. Still, she can’t help that she longs for the scent of his auto shop whenever she’s anywhere else.
When tragedy strikes, Bettina must tell her family the truth—and kiss goodbye the things she thought she knew about herself and the men in her life.
Leslie Connor has written a lyrical, heartbreaking, and ultimately hopeful story about family, romance, and the immense power of love.
I’m going to be upfront with you guys and let you know that I did not have particularly high expectations for this book. I actually traded for this ARC with Mel because she had no interest in reading it, and I thought, why not. I thought it would be an easy-to-read, easily digestible romance. Probably corny. The synopsis was majorly focused on a love triangle, so I thought there would be some melodrama… but this book surprised me in the best way.
The Things You Kiss Goodbye is not a particularly happy book. I would argue that the synopsis is not a particularly good one. To me it seemed like there might be some light troubles in Bettina’s relationship – that the guy doesn’t pay enough attention and that maybe they argue. Um. No. In the prologue, it becomes clear that this story is about an abusive relationship. When Brady first courts Bettina, he’s a super sweet guy, who genuinely just makes Bettina super happy, but after some months, he changes completely. He pressures her into sex, gets jealous and controlling, and starts bullying her under the guise of “teasing”.
So normally I would not ever ever EVER be okay with infidelity, but when Bettina meets Cowboy, who genuinely cares for her and is so sweet to her, I totally understand where she’s coming from. I mean, low expectations aside, I definitely felt drawn in by Bettina’s circumstances and felt so much sympathy for her. No one deserves what she was going through. And it’s not hardcore abuse in that she doesn’t get the living shit beat out of her, but it’s a lot of emotional abuse and some instances that leave her with bruises when Brady holds her just a little too tightly, but I think that’s also an important issue to show. I love the message that this book sends out. Even if you try to rationalize it and make it out to be “not a big deal” – abuse in every form is a big deal. I was genuinely afraid for Bettina and praying for her to get out of those circumstances, but I knew how realistic it was that she went through phases of denial and rationalization. It was extremely human and thus struck me in the heart.
Bettina and Cowboy’s relationship was truly really sweet. I loved seeing them gradually grow closer, in spite of Bettina’s obvious reluctance to let people too close to her. I did flinch a little at their age difference (almost 10 years, while Bettina is in high school, I mean, ermmm), so maybe I didn’t ship them that much on a romantic level, but I liked the support they offered each other. Cowboy’s had his own troubled past, which helps him to relate to what Bettina’s going through. This is also the part where in other novels I might have gagged because it got pretty sappy, but in this novel, it worked. With Bettina’s situation, I was just happy that she was able to have these small moments of happiness.
I also must say that I overall really liked the secondary characters. Bettina’s brothers, Avel and Faviel, and pretty much her only friend at school, Bonnie, were lovely to read about. Her family has a Greek heritage, which really made the novel have a unique angle, to me, although I really disliked her father. I could also relate to Bettina’s other struggles in high school – wanting to fit in, but disliking a lot of the people and expectations. She’s at her strongest in her art classes, and I loved reading the passages about her genuine inspiration for art. So this has all been rather positive until now, but I’m still not blown away by this book. In spite of its realistic characters, circumstances, and emotions, I still had trouble connecting.
To be honest, it’s probably the last plot twist that is bothering me the most. It did shock me, seriously — my jaw dropped, but it was so unresolved later. I guess I just don’t really see the point of it. If you want a happy ending, you shouldn’t read this book, probably. I’m left feeling pretty numb, but that’s for obviously spoilery reasons. View Spoiler »So, yeah, I get it, Cowboy died, because shit happens sometimes. But I was just waiting the whole time for something more to be done with it – that Brady somehow found out about their relationship and killed him. Maybe I’ve been watching too much of Orphan Black and The Blacklist and whatever, but I just thought there had to be something more to it than it JUST being an accident, but there wasn’t. Now it just felt like… another reason for Bettina’s life to suck. And while Bettina did confront Brady about his abuse at the end, I felt like there wasn’t enough emphasis on that. It was one short interaction and she more or less just lets him off the hook. I was really hoping for more. « Hide Spoiler