By Iylia Marsya Iskandar
[This review contains spoilers]. Full synopsis here.
I picked up this book hoping for a light read, something along the lines of a cosy evening read while drinking tea. I imagined it to be somewhere on the same shelf as Me Before You or Love, Rosie but life has its ways of throwing curveballs, and this saying is highly depicted in the novel.
“Just because someone hurts you doesn’t mean you can simply stop loving them. It’s not a person’s actions that hurt the most. It’s the love. If there was no love attached to the action, the pain would be a little easier to bear.”
It’s a well narrated book that gives us a close perspective on what women in abusive relationships and families go through suffering abuse in the hands of those meant to protect and love them. The love and hate emotions, the little hope held. It’s a rollercoaster of emotions and thought-provoking.
The protagonist, Lily Bloom met with neurosurgeon Ryle Kincaid one lucky night in Boston. Ryle is a charismatic, ambitious and from Lily’s eyes good-looking, there was not much reason for Lily to not fall in love with Ryle over the course of the book. Overall, I did not like Ryle as a character at first but he became to grow on me and I started thinking that maybe Ryle was not so bad for Lily. Ryle and Lily have a series of “naked truth” where they are completely honest with each other, this is where Ryle learned that Lily grew up in an abusive household. Ryle was fairytale perfect until the first incident happened and he pushed Lily until her head bleeds.
“Fifteen seconds. That’s all it takes to completely change everything about a person. Fifteen.”
Lily swears she will never end up in another abusive home (as all women in the world) but when Ryle starts to show all the same warning signs that her mother ignored, Lily learns just how hard it is to say goodbye. When Ryle displayed his remorse and how his past affected his rage, Lily can justify his behaviour: “I think we needed what happened on the stairwell to happen so that I would know his past and we’d be able to work on it together,” she tells herself.
This happened again for a second time and then a third. Lily and Ryle were married on the third time. Ryle was blinded by jealousy that he tried as much to rape Lily.
In many ways, this book gave me an epiphany. When Lily delivered Emerson and she finally tells Ryle she wants a divorce and starts asking him questions for Emerson, what he would do if Emerson came home and said she was being abused, Ryle broke down and said he would beg her to leave him no matter how much he loved her. This part of the story made me rethink my opinions on abusive relationships.
Lily is a real person, not because she’s based on Colleen Hoover’s mom, but because there are women out there now who are going through the same thing, thinking the same thing, feeling the same thing. According to the Women’s Aid Organisation, there were 5,421 cases of domestic violence among Malaysians in 2018 alone. Prior to reading this, I would just say “I would just leave”. Women who say they would simply leave need to read this novel. Fall in love with Ryle, and then have the rug taken out from underneath them. The amount of time Colleen gave us readers to form a real attachment to Ryle, Lily was forming an attachment to him as well. One of the hardest lessons of this novel is for us to never judge a situation we have never been in. It is never simple with abuse.
In her diary, Lily wrote:
“People on the outside of situations like these often wonder why the woman goes back to the abuser. I read somewhere once that 85 percent of women return to abusive situations. That was before I realised I was in one, and when I heard that statistic, I thought it was because the women were stupid. I thought it was because they were weak. I thought these things about my mother more than once.”
“I’m a statistic now. The things I’ve thought about women like me are now what others would think of me if they knew my current situation.”
Lily was inspiring. She was real and vulnerable. Lily stood up, gathers her courage and made a decision most women could not make. Lily left for a better future with her daughter. Her strength and conviction over the course of this story made her into a heroine every girl and woman will look up to.
In one chapter Coleen addressed the misconception of homelessness as well, Atlas, Lily’s first love was homeless. He was thrown out of home with no money and no nearby relative. He tried to seek help but there was not enough help to go around even though he was still in school but he was already an adult at 18.
Lily was the daughter of her mayor, her dad always told her he works hard for his money and he refuses to give away to charity as it is not his fault other people do not want to work and Lily always thought homeless people were homeless because they were lazy or drug addicts or just did not want to work like other people. That is until she met Atlas and realised that homelessness is not a choice and people like her father who refused to help instead of being capable of it, is the problem.
Lily is deeply affected by it and keeps on asking, “Do you donate to charity?” to her lovers.
All in all, this book has multiple underlying layers that you will not realise on your first read. You will need to read it for a second time for hints on what is coming next. Like all romance novels, there is a tinge of artificiality to it but the issues that were addressed are real, in the real world, maybe even worst in some cases.
“Cycles exist because they are excruciating to break. It takes an astronomical amount of pain and courage to disrupt a familiar pattern. Sometimes it seems easier to just keep running in the same familiar circles, rather than facing the fear of jumping and possibly not landing on your feet. My mother went through it. I went through it. I’ll be damned if I allow my daughter to go through it. I kiss her on the forehead and make her a promise. It stops here. With me and you. It ends with us.”
My heart and prayers go out to women suffering in abusive relationships. I hope you find strength to start all over again, just like how Lily did. ***
“You can stop swimming now, Lily. We finally reached the shore.”