You make me feel like there’s something good in the world I can hold on to,’ Aaron says. He kisses me again, draws me so close it’s almost hard to breathe. ‘I love you, Gem. And I promise I’ll hold your heart forever.’
When Gemma meets Aaron, she feels truly seen for the first time. Their love story is the intense kind. The written-in-the-stars, excluding-all-others kind. The kind you write songs about.
But little by little their relationship takes over Gemma’s life. What happens when being seen becomes being watched, and care becomes control?
Told in both Gemma’s and Aaron’s words, this is a raw, moving exploration of gaslighting in teenage relationships that skewers our ideas of what love looks like.
Karen Gregory has been a confirmed bookworm since early childhood. She wrote her first story about Bantra the mouse aged twelve, then put away the word processor until her first child was born, when she was overtaken by the urge to write. Her first novel, Countless, published in 2017, was shortlisted for the Leeds Book Award and longlisted for the Branford Boase. Her second novel, Skylarks, was published in 2018. Karen lives in Wiltshire with her family.
What I Thought
This starts out like a love at first sight teen romance, where main character Gemma gets swept away by the enigmatic Aaron. As do we to a certain extent, despite knowing that something is going to go wrong.
Gemma is overshadowed at home by her football playing younger brother Michael and Aaron sees this – and her.
With beach picnics and expensive gifts Gemma falls deeper and despite friends concerns she fails to see the warning signs. And that’s because they are so subtle at first. Things that are easily dismissed or put down to coincidence.
This is an interesting look at gaslighting in a relationship, made even more complex by the addition of Aaron’s point of view, one that doesn’t immediately portray neon flashing lights but indicates that something has gone wrong in a past relationship.
The author makes it clear in a postscript that having his point of view included doesn’t excuse any behaviour but it helps the reader explore the psychology of the phenomenon from both sides.
I loved the inclusion of Gemma’s family dynamic and it was intriguing how particularly her parents relationship set some foundations for certain behaviours to be seen as normal. That’s what is very tricky with emotional abuse in particular, in most relationships – even with friends – things are said that can be hurtful or occasionally manipulative, when does it become abuse?
Set in college we see how important friendships are to teenagers in navigating their transition between child and adulthood. Gemma’s great love is country music and songwriting and her changing relationships with her family, friends and activities are powerful indicators of what is happening. In isolation her relationship with Aaron can definitely be seen as romantic, but in the wider context the cracks show.
All in all this is a very powerful read that reminded me of You by Caroline Kepnes. Trigger warnings for emotional, physical and sexual abuse.
Do check out what the other reviewers on the tour thought.
Thank you to Faye Rogers and Bloomsbury for the gifted copy for the purposes of this honest review.
Bobby Seed has questions.
What’s another word for ‘thesaurus’? How can I tell Bel I want her as my girl friend, not my girlfriend? How much pain is mum in today? Has she taken her pills? And sometimes, secretly, Why us?
Bobby’s little brother Danny has questions too
Will Bobby let him have Rice Krispies for dinner? Can he stay up late on the computer! And why won’t Mum’s stupid illness just GO AWAY?
But it’s Mum’s question for Bobby that could turn everything on its head.
It’s the Big One. The Unthinkable One. If Bobby agreed, he won’t just be soothing her pain. He’ll be helping to end it.
Brian Conaghan was born and raised in the Scottish town of Coatbridge but now lives in Dublin. He has a Master if Letters in Creative Writing from the University of Glasgow. For many years Brian worked as a teacher and taught in Scotland, Italy and Ireland. His first YA novel for Bloomsbury, When Mr Dog Bites, was shortlisted for the 2015 Carnegie Medal, and his second, The Bombs That Bought Us Together, won the 2016 Costa Children’s Book Award. We Come Apart, a verse novel co-authored with Carnegie Medal winner Sarah Crossan, won the 2018 UKLA Book Award, and his fourth novel, The Weight of a Thousand Feathers, won the 2018 Irish Book Award for Teen & Young Adult Book of the Year. Now Available in paperback.
What I Thought
This is a fairly difficult review to write because I have quite conflicted thoughts about this book. It looks at a very controversial topic – assisted suicide/euthanasia – so it was always going to be an emotive read.
Bobby’s mum has Multiple Sclerosis (MS). This is a condition I am familiar with through my work and so this is perhaps where some of the difficulty I had with the book comes from. It’s like when my dad used to complain about London’s Burning because that wasn’t what real firefighting was like.
It’s not completely inaccurate of course, and everyone experiences MS in different ways, but this seemed like a overly sudden progression.
I really enjoyed the first half of the book. Bobby is 17 and classed as a young carer. His younger brother Danny also has undisclosed special needs so he looks after him too. Bobby’s teacher introduces him to a support group with other young people in the same situation. Much of this part of the book is about the connection he makes with the other people there. It reminds me a little of the group scenes in The Fault in Our Stars for that reason. There is some romance too. It was positive to see LGBT rep that wasn’t the main focus of the story too.
His mum asks a couple of big questions so don’t be fooled when the first isn’t the one indicated in the synopsis. My wish would have been a greater exploration about possible reasons for the first question.
School seems to drop off the radar for Bobby although it is his life outside that is the focus of this book.
My biggest difficulty I think is with how the euthanasia topic is handled and there are some quite shocking discussions and scenes around this. It definitely shows the need for a fuller discussion around this societally because there is a definite acknowledgement that young people should not have to be put in this situation.
And the ending was very abrupt. I don’t know if there are plans for a second book.
I did feel empathy towards Bobby and the scenes with his younger brother Danny were good. I liked their connection.
Personally I think I’m just maybe too close to this particular topic to read it completely as fiction.
Thanks to Ian and Bloomsbury for the gifted copy for the purposes of honest review.
So on Saturday I reviewed Letters to the Lost and whilst these two are companion novels you can definitely read More Than We Can Tell without having read the former. I loved them both so highly recommend picking the pair up to devour, and you will have the benefit of already knowing a bit about Rev’s past if you read LttL first.
When I started reading I initially thought that it was going to be very similar to the first book where much of the communication takes place via letter and then e-mail. And although texts and online forum communication features here too it is not between the main characters who actually meet face to face.
The first book dealt with loss. This book tackles some even heavier issues, such as child abuse, fostering and adoption, online bullying and misogynist gamer culture, and another topic I can’t mention without it being a spoiler.
Although Juliet and Declan from the first book feature, the former is very much only briefly mentioned and Declan is relegated to best friend status but is still his awesome self. I love the brotherly relationship between him and Rev.
But this book is time to really focus on Rev’s back story, the reason behind his uniform of a hoodie which leads to his nickname as the Grim Reaper. In the book he turns 18 and that means someone he’d never quite been able to forget sneaks back into his life.
Emma meanwhile has an online stalker slide into her DMs and hack into the popular game she herself developed. The only problem is she knows that gaming culture is like that for girls and her parents are too busy with their own thing, including her mum disapproving with how much time she spends on the computer so she doesn’t feel able to share.
It’s all too common for parents in YA fiction to be absent, and whilst our main characters do have some absent parents it’s nice to see the relationships with the parents they do have explored from all angles. Something that was started in the first book too. It’s particularly good to see such a positive relationship with adoptive parents whilst also showing the challenges that foster/adoptive parents face and the abuses that can sometimes occur with caregivers too.
The end of the book turns into a bit of a thriller and there is some violence that readers expecting a romance may not be expecting.
It’s really good to explore the concept of harassment happening in the context of ‘but that’s just how it is’ and to see teens challenging that and looking out for each other.
One topic that doesn’t get that much mention in books in religion and I thought Rev’s religious views were sensitively handled. Personally I don’t follow subscribe to organised religion, identifying more as a humanist agnostic. I thought the author did a really good job in presenting a balanced view whilst respecting the beliefs of her character.
I loved Letters to the Lost and I think I loved this powerful read a tiny bit more. Actually no I can’t decide. They are both ones I’ll read again.
About the author
Brigid Kemmerer is the author of Letters to the Lost and the YALSA nominated Elementals series and the paranormal mystery Thicker ThanWater. She was born in Omaha, Nebraska, though her parents quickly moved her all over the United States, from the desert in Albuquerque, New Mexico, to the lakeside in Cleveland, Ohio, with several stops in between. Brigid is now settled near Annapolis, Maryland, with her husband and children.
Huge thanks to Faye and Bloomsbury for my copy for review. I will treasure it and the opinions above are entirely my own.
Do check out the other two Bloomsbury Spring Titles – Truly, Wildly, Deeply by Jenny McLachlan and The Earth, My Butt, and Other Big Round Things by Carolyn Mackler.