Published by Simon Pulse on October 7th, 2014
Genres: contemporary, young adult
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From the author of Fault Line comes an edgy and heartbreaking novel about two self-destructive teens in a Sid and Nancy-like romance full of passion, chaos, and dyed hair.
Seventeen-year-old Amelia Gannon (just "Gannon" to her friends) is invisible to almost everyone in her life. To her parents, to her teachers-even her best friend, who is more interested in bumming cigarettes than bonding. Some days the only way Gannon knows she is real is by carving bloody lines into the flesh of her stomach.
Then she meets Michael Brooks, and for the first time, she feels like she is being seen to the core of her being. Obnoxious, controlling, damaged, and addictive, he inserts himself into her life until all her scars are exposed. Each moment together is a passionate, painful relief.
But as the relationship deepens, Gannon starts to feel as if she's standing at the foot of a dam about to burst. She's given up everything and everyone in her life for him, but somehow nothing is enough for Brooks-until he poses the ultimate test.
Bleed Like Me is a piercing, intimate portrayal of the danger of a love so obsessive it becomes its own biggest threat.
I want to be up front about exactly how dark and fucked up this book is. There are very graphic, detailed scenes depicting self harm. There is sex, drugs, running away, an abusive relationship, and even the violent death of a kitten (nothing is shown, but we’re told about it after the fact.) I want to be clear that my low rating is not because of the content, but because of the execution. I have lived through so many of the things that happened on the pages of Bleed Like Me and for the most part, I felt that this book really dropped the ball in representing this well.
When I was a teenager, I self harmed, from the ages of 13 to 18. I’ve lived through abuse of many kinds, including a string of horrifyingly awful boyfriends. At the tender age of 19 I had to accept that I was self medicating and had become addicted to drugs, and I had to fight that addiction (and that fight continues every single day. It doesn’t just go away.) Now, the purpose of this review isn’t to talk about me and what I’ve lived through, but I think it’s important to give some context to my feelings about Bleed Like Me and why I thought it was awful.
I could relate to Gannon in too many ways; it was almost like looking at a mirror. Ever since her parents adopted her three younger brothers five years ago, Gannon has felt invisible. And while my younger siblings are not adopted and certainly did not have the same background as Gannon’s brothers, I could still feel the sharp sting of being replaced. I was ten when my sister was born, but that wasn’t as hard for me, since I didn’t live with my mom. But when my dad and stepmom had a son, when I was 12, it affected me. There were other things going on at the same time too, so I could absolutely connect with Gannon’s feelings of losing control, losing the love of your parents, and feeling like you don’t matter at all. Of course, Gannon’s brothers, being adopted at an older age and having lived on the streets beforehand, they have an entirely different situation. I tried to have some compassion for the three brothers, but they were absolute terrors and gleefully killed a kitten, so it was hard.
When Gannon meets Brooks, it’s easy to see that this isn’t going to be a positive, healing relationship. He’s huffing spray paint out of a paper bag and doesn’t take no for an answer. Shortly after their first introduction, Brooks asserts himself into Gannon’s life and slowly takes over. It doesn’t take long for Gannon to abandon the few good things in her life: her best friend, and her job. Soon, life is all about Brooks whether that means making drug runs, popping E, or even letting him be the one wielding the razor. That’s right – HE cuts HER. This relationship is obviously unstable and unhealthy. I don’t think the author was trying to get one over on us or try to convince the reader that any of this was romantic. It wasn’t. But you know what? I understood how Gannon could get to that point with Brooks. I understood her need to self harm, to self medicate, and to throw all of herself into the tumultuous relationship. I did these same things, but I had different motivations, and that’s where I lost my understanding of Gannon. When I hurt myself, I did it to bring myself back to reality. And when I did unbelievably stupid shit, it wasn’t to impress anyone – it was because I did not care what happened to me. The thing is, I think there was room for that sort of exploration of depression and self harm within this book, but the author, like I said, dropped the ball.
The worst thing about all this is that I think the book lacks focus. Halfway through reading I was sure Gannon was going to learn something. I was sure she was going to get help and actually try to get her shit together. Even if she didn’t succeed at any type of recover (which is SO realistic let’s not even play) at least then it would have been obvious what the book was trying to say. But even after View Spoiler »her house burns down, she has a stay in a psychiatric facility, Brooks goes to juvie, they run away and live in a shit hole that doesn’t even have a bathroom, and Brooks ultimately kills himself « Hide Spoiler I don’t think Gannon really learned anything. She didn’t change at all from beginning to end. Even in the epilogue, she still wasn’t over Brooks, still didn’t understand that any of the shit she did was wrong and unhealthy. I understand what an intense and abusive romantic relationship can do to you. I know that having an abusive partner can rob you of any sense of worth or sense of self. But when a character in a book does not change at all, I feel the author has failed.
One last thing – I want to talk about technical errors and why this book made me rage even in the beginning when I still liked it. The writing was atrocious. The metaphors were ridiculous. And I thought it was a mistake to have such clearly graphic imagery for one violent thing, but not others. Also: the smoking. Holy fucking shit. It was like the author has never spent any amount of time near a smoker in her life. I have smoked for ten years (recently quit! yay!) and before that, I grew up in a family of smokers. Literally NO ONE in the history of time has ever called menthol cigarettes “filtered menthols” or anything other than fucking cigarettes. No one has ever said anything like “God, I could use a filtered menthol right about now.” No one says, “He picked me up a package of filtered menthols.” I mean, I know it sounds incredibly stupid, but SO MUCH of this book was dedicated to those goddamn filtered menthols and how obsessed the characters were with smoking cigarettes. Never in my life have I see ANYONE so preoccupied by cigarettes, and I’ve worked retail.
In short, Bleed Like Me was simply a huge disappointment. At first, I really connected with the main character’s story and her struggle with the addiction of self harm, her feelings of helplessness, and even/especially her descent into an abusive relationship. But with a lack of focus and voice, coupled with horrible writing, there’s no way I could ever give this thing higher than this 1.5 rating. Trigger warnings for those who have depression, drug addiction issues, abuse issues, and those who are triggered by fire and burns.