Iris wants to be an actress more than anything. When a fairly-famous director visiting from Australia takes notice of her, she’s flattered and completely intrigued. It doesn’t matter to her that he’s a decade and a half older than her because he’s so smart, charming, and attractive. She starts secretly dating Mick, and it isn’t long before she realizes that Mick has an anger in him that puts her in danger. By the time Iris realizes what’s happening, she’s isolated and embarrassed, so she continues to see him as his anger–and violence towards her–increases.
Novels about abusive relationships are tricky, because readers aren’t dumb and know when they’re being manipulated. There’s been no shortage of YA novels about abusive relationships in the past few years, and I’ve read quite a few of them. Some are more successful than others, and this is one of those novels. Monique Polak’s novel about a young girl who finds herself trapped in an abusive relationship might appear fairly textbook in its execution, but the solid, accessible writing and the authentic voice of Iris as a narrator make this one compelling even for the most reluctant reader.
As far as sympathetic characters go, Iris is one. She’s been raised by her mother because her father was expelled from the country for illegal activities. He’s been estranged from her since she was a little girl, and so she’s never had a strong male presence in her life. Enter Mick, who is older, attractive, and confident: he knows what he wants, and he knows what Iris wants to hear. It’s clear early on that Mick has chosen Iris because he sees a certain vulnerability in her, but this is done so subtly that it works.
The plot is fast-paced, the narrative voice authentic. Polak’s writing is accessible but doesn’t pander to her audience. She offers a fairly standard trajectory of an abusive relationship, but what’s lovely to see here is how she allows her secondary characters to develop into actual people. The novel ends on a hopeful and believable note, and readers should be satisfied.
So Much it Hurts by Monique Polak. Orca Books: 2013. Electronic galley accepted for review via publisher for 2013 Cybils.