Monday, June 23, 2014

Review: Through to You by Lauren Barnholdt

Title: Through to You
Author: Lauren Barnholdt
Publisher: Simon Pulse
Release date: July 8th 2014
Pages: 256
Genre: Young Adult contemporary romance
Source: Edelweiss - I received a free eGalley of this book from the publisher in exchange for an honest review. Thanks!
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It starts with a scribbled note in class: I like your sparkle. Harper had casually threaded a piece of blue and silver tinsel through her ponytail in honor of school spirit day. And that carefree, corny gesture is what grabs Penn Mattingly’s eye. Penn—resident heartbreaker of the senior class. Reliably unreliable. Trouble with a capital “T.” And okay, smolderingly sexy.
Harper’s surprised by Penn’s attention—and so is Penn. The last thing he needs is a girlfriend. Or even a friend-with-benefits. The note is not supposed to lead to anything.
Oh, but it does. They hang out. They have fun. They talk. They make out. And after a while, it seems like they just click. But Penn and Harper have very different ideas about what relationships look like, in no small part because of their very different family backgrounds. Of course they could talk about these differences—if Penn knew how to talk about feelings.
Harper and Penn understand their attraction is illogical, yet something keeps pulling them together. It’s like a crazy roller coaster—exhilarating, terrifying, and amazing all at once. And neither knows how to stop the ride…
My rating: 2 out of 5 stars

Good-girl/bad-boy romances are very hit-or-miss for me - I'm not a huge fan of the story art, but when it's well done, I do enjoy it. Sadly, Through to You does not belong in the well-done category: it exemplifies every issue I take with the story arc, and then some, making this a very frustrating read for me.

I'm just going to say it: the way Penn treats Harper is emotionally abusive. I know there are lots of people who won't take this claim seriously and call my use of the world abuse exaggerated, but I firmly believe that this relationship is an abusive one. Penn is irrational and has outbreaks of anger during and after which he completely ignores and disrespects Harper. Harper needs to walk on coals to make sure not to set him off. The power balance is completely in Penn's favor: he calls the shots and decides when to ignore Harper and when to expect her to be at his beck and call. The two of them talk about Penn's life exclusively, and Penn gets annoyed whenever Harper tries to bring up whatever is going on with her. None of these things are okay, and to market this unhealthy relationship as a romance is problematic in so many ways. I understand that this is the point of the novel and that they (supposedly) figure their issues out over the course of the story, but Penn apologizing and promising to do better does not make his behavior okay. Presenting his apology as a happy ending for the couple is problematic to say the least, and I don't even want to think about what kind of message this novel sends about gender roles, relationships, and power dynamics.

With an emotionally abusive relationship presented as a romance, I really couldn't enjoy any part of this novel. The characters frustrated me so much - I understand that Penn's going through a lot, but that does not justify the way he treats Harper, or some of the other people in his life. I couldn't see him as the "hero" of the story because his behavior is simply unacceptable. Harper's character had a lot of potential: I really liked her, but I kept hoping for her not to go back to Penn, so of course I was disappointed. The characters outside of this relationship seemed interesting and had potential, but the story focuses so much on the "romance" that their stories are never fully explored.

I don't have anything else to say: there's nothing technically "wrong" with the novel, and I did enjoy Lauren Barnholdt's writing. But an emotionally abusive relationship that isn't addressed as one is kind of a dealbreaker for me, and I cannot consider this a romance. Because of the highly problematic portrayal of relationships and power dynamics, I cannot recommend Through to You. I did really enjoy Lauren Barnholdt's Two-Way Street, though, and I've heard good things about her other novels, so I'd recommend reading one of those instead.


  1. Thank you for your review. It is helpful to hear your thoughts. I think I will pass on this one. I agree with you - I do not want to read about an abusive relationship as if it is normal. I like strong female characters.

  2. Sounds like this is a pass for me too. I reviewed a book with a similar negative relationship aspect and got blasted on it because I was not kind with my view on that aspect ( I had issues with the bad parenting in that book too). It amazed me how many people are willing to defend abuse as normal male behavior. Actually, it's sad. It just shows how many bad relationships are out there.

    1. Yes! None of the reviews of this one that I've found (even the negative ones) mention that this is an abusive relationship, which is really sad and scary to think about it. It really does show how much we've accepted that 'boys will be boys' and how much we're socialized to expect such behavior from men. Just... ugh. Glad to know at least one person agrees :)


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