Pub Date: March 20, 2018
Publisher: self published
Length: 460 pages
POV: Alternating 1st/present
FTC: purchased myself
I am a not a fan of 1st person, present tense. I am not a NA reader. I have noped out of so many books because they're present tense. I am also not someone for whom highly buzzed books works. I'm just that way. Born to be contrary. I am also not someone usually bothered by problematic or troubling content. Content warnings are usually wasted on me, because I can usually stomach just about anything. THIS BOOK BOTHERED ME. ***scroll down to the very end if you're looking for how the story ends.***
Before going further, please know that even the descriptions of what happens in this book may be triggering for some readers. It's THAT awful. And I don't normally write reviews with spoilers or plot synopses, but I am so angry right now that nothing in the description or the reviews specifically warned readers of the type of content in this book. It's hinted at, but hidden behind euphemisms.
This book contains graphic details of emotional and physical domestic violence, firearms, and sexual assault/rape. And it's not just at the beginning. It is the bulk of the conflict of the novel. So this isn't something you can read and move past to enjoy the rest of the story. IT IS THE STORY.
Maybe I'm being unfair. I don't know. But nothing in the description clued me in that the book was about a basketball player beating the shit out of and raping his girlfriend. Or keeping her a prisoner. Or deliberately getting her pregnant to keep her tied to him.
Here is the blurb:
A FORBIDDEN LOVE SET IN THE EXPLOSIVE WORLD OF THE NBA...
Think you know what it's like being a baller's girl?
My fairy tale is upside down.
A happily never after.
I kissed the prince and he turned into a fraud.
I was a fool, and his love - fool's gold.
Now there's a new player in the game, August West.
One of the NBA's brightest stars.
He wants me. I want him.
But my past, my fraudulent prince, just won't let me go
*Some aspects of this story may be sensitive for some readers.
The story opens at the senior year of college for all 3 main characters: Iris (who is studying sports marketing), her boyfriend Caleb, and August. Caleb and August are rivals, both college athletes who are destined for the NBA draft. August is hanging out at a bar sipping soda when he spots Iris and strikes up a flirtatious conversation. It's clear he doesn't know who she is, although Iris is well aware of August and aware that that she has a boyfriend who is also a serious rival to the man she's speaking to.
Iris, who wants her career and is unsure of her future with Caleb, thinks about leaving only to discover she's pregnant. She puts her career on hold due to bed rest and the exhaustion of parenting a newborn. There's emotional abuse and controlling behavior. He hires a bodyguard who helps in his efforts to control her. Fast forward to the part where Caleb figures out August has been flirting with Iris. They square off on the NBA level court, and Caleb deliberately breaks August's leg in retribution. No consequences. Iris calls Caleb out, and that's the first time he hits her.
She tries to leave, but Caleb outmaneuvered her and turned off her credit cards. He reports the car she drives as stolen, because it's in HIS name. He also reports her daughter as kidnapped. Then shows up just as she's being arrested to "clear up" the confusion.
[I'm going to pause here, because this is the very first thing that REALLY bothered me. To my core. And the reason is deeply personal. But I'm going to share it because I'm trying to make a point about warning readers. My mom is a domestic violence survivor. She had TWO relationships that turned violent. The last one? She tried to get away from him and HE REPORTED THE TRUCK STOLEN. The cops believed him (even though they should have known better and checked her address against the registration) and she spent the night alone, IN JAIL. I was 13. This shit happens all of the time. I'm not blaming Ryan for writing about it, but I am incredibly angry that there wasn't some kind of clear content warning on this book. Because it gets so much worse.]
35% in, and the raping at gunpoint starts. He admits he tampered with the condoms, and crows about being able to fuck her without them now, because he has leverage over her via a postpartum journal and her lack of financial resources. He sticks the gun into the entrance of her vagina and makes her choose: him or the gun.
He has his "bodyguard" call Social Services on Iris. Just to further put stress on her and shore up his custody rights if she ever gets away and tries to get custody. After the visit from Social Services, he beats her again, so badly that now he has his cousin, a med student he has blackmail on, look her over and give her medicine because her ribs are bruised. He threatens Iris's extended family as well.
Around 50% in, August and Iris meet again. She's being watched over by the bodyguard while volunteering for a charity. They have an interlude, but the bodyguard snitches and Caleb catches them. 55%, he sodomizes her then beats her so badly that she loses consciousness. The cousin finally has a brief burst of conscience and helps her escape along with her cousin, Lotus.
57% and we see the settlement with Caleb and his father. She doesn't go public with the file folder of abuse evidence she's compiled, he signs over custody and agrees to leave them alone. Signs an NDA.
60% August is asking the volunteer coordinator where Iris is. Iris has disappeared.
A YEAR PASSES.
We're at 61% of the book, and other than a few short scenes, August and Iris have no page time together.
Iris has fled to her grandmother's in Louisiana. There's some purifying, some healing. Her grandmother dies. (sigh) Iris and her cousin Lotus have a heart to heart about abuse that happened to Lotus (raped as a child by a family member).
August is still trying to find Iris. He's still pining.
67% and Iris makes the call to take back her life and resume working in sports marketing. She calls the guy whose internship she had to turn down when pregnant. Who also just happens to be August's stepbrother, which Iris doesn't know.
August is looking at a trade deal worth $40+ million, but Jared tells him Iris is coming to work for him, and he turns it down to stay.
And this is where I have an issue. These two don't get together until darn near 70% of the book. The conflict is 100% about domestic violence.
***To sum up the last of the book: she ends up working for the agency owned by August (silent partner) and his stepbrother. August tries to help her however he can while respecting she wants to do things on her own and not be financially dependent on him. Their relationship is fairly easy after all she's gone through. And then the guilty-conscience cousin leaks the file folder of Iris's abuse to the press. August is away from town for a game. He sends a driver to take her and her daughter to Louisiana for safety, but after her experiences with Caleb's bodyguard, she refuses to let the driver stay. And yes, Caleb finds them.
Caleb attacks her. Shoots her in the shoulder and is attempting to rape her again when she wrestles for the gun and it goes off. Caleb is shot. August shows up. They decide to watch Caleb to make sure he dies before dialing 911. There's an optimistic epilogue.
My thoughts: The book is well written. I loathe every single thing about 1st person, present, and I found the use of that tense for on-the-page rape highly troubling. I did NOT like how much of the story centered the abusive relationship. The domestic violence outweighed the basketball in this book. More time is spent on her rape and abuse than on the romance we're supposed to be reading for. I have a very difficult time with books that are labeled romance, but the love story doesn't feel central to the book. And while this is undoubtedly a well written book by a highly skilled author, I'm going to go ahead and get dragged by saying I'm not sure I'd consider this a romance. It read far more like a novel with romantic elements or a love story tacked on. YMMV.