I'm really pissed off after reading this.
TW: abuse, sexual assault, bullying, homophobia
Looks like I'm the odd one out because I hated this book.
I was betrayed by a best friend when I was in junior high. She accused me of doing things I would never do, and this was after weeks of not talking to me because she was busy with her new friends at her new school. But I didn’t know what she was going to say when I took her phone call. I was just happy she called, that I wasn’t forgotten, that I was still her friend and important enough for her to call me. I wasn’t prepared for the things she would say to me and the hatred with which she would say them. And it hurt. A lot. Because if you can’t trust your best friend, who the hell can you trust? Well, you learn to pick your friends better, but it took me a long time to realize that. In the few times our paths crossed during high school, she never once apologized but acted like everything was normal (and I went along with it because good girls don't make scenes, but that's another social issue for another day). So yeah, trust is a huge issue for me, and people who expect forgiveness without apologizing have nothing but my disdain.
But let’s face it, as much as that sucked back then, it doesn’t even compare to what Scott has to go through at the hands of Bryan and his posse of assholes. We’re talking constant bullying, abuse and assault,
including at one point sexual assault that Bryan is complicit in.
And that’s all kind of swept under the rug, because in this story, we’re supposed to be worried about Bryan’s state of mind. Because clearly, this is all about Bryan, not the actual victim.
Bryan is one of those people who expects forgiveness without apologizing. But Bryan did apologize, right? Not really, because he conveniently forgot the crimes he was apologizing for, so none of that counts. Nothing that he does for the first 90% of this book counts. He wakes up one morning with a major jonesing for red sheets and a completely blank spot of all his bullying behavior so he can pretend he’s Superman when really he’s a scumbag even Lex Luthor would be shaking his head at. He makes some overzealous, forced attempts at being an Eagle Scout, all the while patting himself on the back for how awesome and selfless he is now, all while stalking Scott until Scott is convinced he’s changed. He even gets a teacher (who I do like) to unwittingly help him in his stalking crusade. When another kid Bryan doesn’t remember being an asshole to tells him about his own bullying, Bryan again doesn’t apologize. He just kind of brushes it off and changes the subject without even acknowledging what David just told him. But Bryan’s “changed”. He’s one of the “good guys” now. Frankly, seeing Bryan surround himself with what he dubs the Social Justice League was nauseating for me because he managed to get all these kids to believe his change was sincere when in fact it was all an elaborate ruse to make him feel better about himself without doing any of the soul searching or redemption necessary for that. And when Bryan does finally remember all the horrible crap he’s done, and the trauma that he put Scott through, it becomes all about Bryan once again.
And the thing is, I probably could’ve tolerated Bryan more if he remembered everything from the get-go and all his attempts to be better had actually been sincere instead of driven by this vague “something” to which he kept referring. It’s not that I don’t like redemption stories or think people are incapable of changing because of how much they screwed up in the past. Xena is my absolute favorite hero because redemption is awesome, but Xena owns all the crap she's done. The only reason to have Bryan forget was so the reader could meet him after his “change” (which is just a side effect of self-induced amnesia than actual real change) and root for the apparently redeemed bully. Yeah. I wasn’t falling for that manipulation. And make no mistake this book is manipulative as hell. It’s designed to make you care about a jerkwad’s shallow attempts at being a better person (He volunteers at homeless shelters! He cares about the planet! He helps kittens out of trees!) rather than put the focus where it actually belongs, and that’s on Scott and how he’s somehow miraculously able to forgive Bryan for all his misdeeds after just a few short weeks. You see, there’s a difference between forgiveness and trust. Forgiveness is something you do for yourself, not the other person, but Bryan practically guilts Scott into it with his Ghandi quotes and that fucked up letter he writes to Scott. Trust is something you give another person once they deserve it, and Bryan hasn’t done anything to deserve that either.
I also didn’t like the writing choice of having Bryan constantly “talk” to the reader. It’s throughout the entire book and clearly meant to get us on Bryan’s side (more manipulation). He also gets preachy with the Gandhi quotes, and that makes him come across like a self-righteous blowhole. Throw in the constant italics for emphasis and the fact that Bryan comes across more like a 12-yr old than a 17-yr old - though maybe that was another side effect of his “amnesia” - and there was little here for me to like.
I kept reading long after I should have quit because everyone loved this book. I figured it must have some redeeming qualities. I did like the stuff with Bryan’s dad and stepfamily, though I had to remind myself constantly that we're seeing Bryan's parents’ divorce from the POV of a child and so don't know the full story of what went down. I also had to concede the possibility that Bryan's dad did apologize at some point before this story started, so I was able to give the man some leeway. (Bryan is the epitome of an Unreliable Narrator after all, not to mention self-involved and determined to make himself appear in the best light possible.) His mom’s pretty great and Scott’s way too good for everyone in this story. Bryan is sincere in his apologies after he finally does remember everything, but that’s the last 10% of the book and not enough time to really deal with it before being whisked off to the HFN where Bryan gets the guy he totally doesn’t deserve. Instead, we’re supposed to rely on the previous 90% of the book - all of which is a con - to believe that Bryan really can and does change.
I'm giving this one star because I really did like Scott, who is the actual hero of this story, and most of the side characters, but everything else can be burned in the fires of Mt. Doom for all I care.