I’ve read every review that’s been written about this book so far and they’re pretty much overwhelmingly positive so I’ll start by alerting you to those and encouraging you to read some of them to balance out what I have to say. I really hope this book will help readers, those who will be validated by seeing themselves in Maggie’s story and those whose eyes will be opened and their sensitivity engaged by what they find in its pages.
I’m always on the lookout for good books about sexual assault and I applaud anyone who tackles this horrendous topic at all so it breaks my heart that I couldn’t five star this book and tell you all that you absolutely have to read it immediately.
There’s something about this book that didn’t quite feel authentic to me but even a day after finishing reading I can’t put my finger on exactly what it is. The author spoke to survivors, counsellors and members of law enforcement and I think it’s wonderful they took the time to do that, yet it reads at times like they were spending so much time trying to tick all the boxes on a list they’d collated from their research that there wasn’t much time left to truly bring Maggie’s experience to life.
For example, Maggie feels angry because her mother forced her to recant what she’d told a friend about the man who sexually abused her. Of course she’s angry but that doesn’t even begin to explain what that feels like. Show me the abandonment Maggie experienced when the one person in this world she should have been able to rely on to protect her above anyone else instead took the side of the man who’d abused her. Show me how Maggie felt when her mother told her that the perpetrator was only being affectionate and how the denial of something that Maggie knew without a shadow of a doubt to be the truth then led her to question her very reality; if something she knew for sure could be so easily dismissed then how she ever really be sure about anything again?! Please don’t just tell me she was angry.
I don’t know. Maybe because of my own experiences I’m pulling this to bits too much. This book does get a lot right about the long term effects of sexual abuse and it does tick a lot of the boxes. Maybe it’s wrong of me to expect this book to take a deep dive on what Maggie’s experience would really feel like but even some aspects of the abuse itself didn’t sit right with me, like the fact that Maggie’s abuser immediately stopped abusing her when her mother asked him about it. While some perpetrators would stop their abuse once confronted there is no way this specific man would have.
The insta romance annoyed me so much! Part of this will no doubt be a byproduct of my romantiphobia. Other readers have loved this romance but it drove me crazy. After only four dates she told this boy her most painful secret, the first time she’s spoken about it in almost ten years (with the exception of a counsellor she sees sometimes). Really? And she calls him “my boy”. 🤢
“My boy” takes it upon himself to decide what Maggie needs and goes into full blown action mode without even consulting her. This is a young woman whose life was turned upside down as a direct result of loss of control so, while I was never going to think a boy taking it upon himself to make critical decisions for a girl without her input was romantic, it was even less so in Maggie’s situation. And “my boy” takes control of Maggie’s decisions after he’s already decided that if he ever meets the perpetrator he’s going to beat him up. Hello, toxic masculinity!
The only character I really liked in this book was Kelvin. Maggie irritated me, “my boy” spent much of the book practising his own weird blend of sensitivity and the toxic masculinity thing and Maggie’s mother drove me crazy, but at least she was realistic. I hated her mother’s responses to Maggie’s abuse and I can’t believe I’m saying this, but I did understand where she was coming from (I still think that almost any response other than the one she had would have been a better choice).
While it’s great that Maggie was able to report her abuse to authorities it bugged me that other options weren’t explored. Not everyone reports sexual abuse and not everyone who does report it gets a result that could be even accidentally mistaken for justice. I’m all for reporting if a survivor chooses to do so but there’s an unfair expectation that if you’ve been victimised in this way then it’s your responsibility to protect potential future victims by reporting this crime. This puts a huge burden on people and if they do report and the perpetrator gets away with it then it can be even more devastating for the survivor in the long run. They can feel like it was their fault the perpetrator is still free to potentially assault other people, when the sole responsibility for past, present and potential future abuse lies with the abuser.
The Hallmark ending sets up unrealistic expectations for anyone considering reporting sexual abuse. Had Maggie reported her abuse to the police in my state she would’ve been told flat out that because she had no physical evidence of the abuse there was almost no chance the perpetrator would be able to be charged, let alone make it to trial. Sure, the introduction of other victims would have helped the case but I’ve known of rapes where the perpetrator wasn’t even interviewed because the crime wasn’t reported immediately.
Regardless of my feelings about the specifics of this book I really do hope it finds its way into the hands of those who would benefit from reading it. Once again, please read other reviews before deciding if this book is for you or not. I’m just one opinion and I’m an outlier.
Content warnings include sexual abuse, physical abuse and alcoholism.
Thank you so much to NetGalley and Cold Fire Publishing, LLC for the opportunity to read this book.
Once Upon a Blurb
That’s what he called me when he stole my innocence. I was a trusting, little girl, and he ruined everything. I tried to tell someone, but my mother made me change my story. After all these years, I still carry this dark secret in my heart.
Now there’s this guy in my class. A nice guy. And he likes me. He makes me think that maybe, just maybe, I could be normal. I could be happy. Just when things are getting good, the pervert barrels back into my life and I discover another little girl is in danger.
Now, what do I do? I can stay safe and silent … or I can do whatever it takes to make sure he never calls another girl “little beauty” again.