Published: 11th July 2019
Publisher: Bloomsbury Press
The tense, tender must-read book of the summer – perfect for fans of Louise O’Neill and Sara Barnard
‘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’s third book has cemented her as the most current and much needed author out there. Her work isn’t about escapism, but about emphathy, relatability and recognision. Countless was such a popular book within my personal lending library in school that I had to purchase three additional copies to keep up with demand. It was also the book that developed a number of students into ‘reader’; begging for other books ‘like this’
Gemma and Aaron are such important characters that represent so many different people in the real world.
Gemma’s voice is strong and emotive. I see not only much of myself in her, but I know many other peopoole who would relate to her and her friendship group. She’s someone you’ll take to your heart as things go wrong; long before Gemma realises it herself.
Aaron is someone who breaks my heart. He’s the guy I fell for only two years ago. I fell for all the lines, all the promises and accepted all the abuse. While he wasn’t a carbon copy, there was enough there for me to regonside. It’s quite clever how Aaron’s been created as he is able to present as a number of types of ‘toxic’ partners while being a well rounded character in himself. For me he represents a narcasist who went from ‘as you wish’ and ‘I’m looking for a flat to rent near you.’ to ‘your crush on me is sad. I stopped loving you, you should do the same about your crush’ and ‘I never said that’ within a blink of an eye. However, to others Aaron will be the constrictive and obsessive boyfriend who cuts a girl off from everyone else in her life.
The scariest part about the plot, is the short space of time it takes up. It’s the key of a toxic relationship and it’s surprising how easy it is to get caught up in one. By presenting it as part of a fictional story, it allows the reader to consider their views from a safe environment. I hope that it allows readers to recognise warning behaviours and, hopefully, it will ensure they don’t allow themselves to be suckered in.
The sub-plot is wonderful and allows the reader to root for Gemma. By giving her the Country singing and songwriting competion, you can truly see how much she is being controlled.
As always, Gregory has a wonderful way with words that gives her characters authentic and truly relatable voices. Having this story told from the perspective of both Gemma and Aaron makes for a rather interesting read. I was overwhelmed at my own wish to be educated on the inner voice of a person who is able to do what Aaron does to someone else.
However, what I did find comforting was the message found within the pages; that I didn’t actually need to look for those answers. That actually, the most important thing was that I didn’t need the answer to tell myself that it wasn’t something I’d done to change my Aaron. It was always going to end that way and what I needed to have done was recognise the behaviours before I compromised my dream like Gemma did.
I’m so incredibly gratful for this read. It was painful, at times, but so bloody inforrmative. There’s a moment that chilled me to the bone, there were moments I wanted to pull Gemma out of the story and away from Aaron but the cathartic relief I gained from knowing I’m not the only one to go through something similar, is so valuable.
Love Han x