In Connor’s (Waiting for Normal, 2010) YA romance, 16 year-old Bettina Vasilis feels isolated by the rules of her traditional Greek family, and by her lack of social activity since her best friend left town. Her life picks up after she catches the attention of “shy, sweet” Brady Cullen and she gets an unexpected taste of freedom when her father allows her to date him.
But it becomes an abusive relationship following a tragically familiar path: Brady alternates jealousy and physical abuse with loving attention, and Bettina is compliant. She doesn’t want to lose her liberty, and as she becomes conscious of how her mother is subservient to her authoritarian father, she starts to follow that pattern of behavior.
When Bettina meets an older man, 26 year-old Cowboy, however, she finds a relationship with someone who values her and who she is, but the icky age difference is never addressed. Though Brady’s transformation from loving kid to monster feels a little abrupt, and Cowboy seems just a little too dreamy, Bettina’s maturing feelings and her fight against the family ties that bind her are impressively well-written.
A two hanky ending cuts off several interesting plot threads, but this romance is given some backbone by Bettina’s emerging self-assured persona and by an affectionate, though clear-sighted, depiction of a family.