I hate recommended reading lists. You know the ones: 100 books to read before you die, 100 best children’s books of all time. I especially hate book lists for teenagers, because teenagers are as wildly different from each other as there are grains of sand on a beach.
Having said all that, sometimes a book comes along that you feel quite strongly should be read by everyone, because it touches on so many important issues people come across in life and are often ill-equipped to deal with. Crush by Eve Ainsworth is one such book.
Anna’s home life is stressful. Her mum has walked out on the family, and Anna can’t forgive her. Her younger brother is Dad’s favourite, she’s tongue-tied when it comes to boys, and Anna knows she’s not as thin as society would like her to be. Anna feels like a square peg trying to fit into a round hole.
Then there’s Will – also struggling with a hole in his family: his missing brother. His mother is mentally ill, tying him into a caring role he’s not ready for or emotionally able to deal with. Will feels emotions very intensely, but without a positive way of releasing them, he keeps everything inside: anger, desire, wanting to mean something. Anna, decides Will, is his salvation. Anna will make him into a good person.
For Anna, Will’s attention is like being in the sun. She basks in his persistent affectionate texts – I can’t get you out of my head – and his hungry embraces. But this is not a healthy relationship, and soon obsession takes over as Will seeks to control Anna, telling her to wear her hair down, reducing her contact with her friends, and tracking her every move. As the story develops, we see Anna’s state of mind start to erode as she begins to doubt her own instincts, squashing down her creeping suspicion that she is no longer safe with Will. Alongside Anna’s story, we see things from Will’s side too – and we see his losing struggle with his own behaviour. Anna cannot save him after all. It’s all her fault…
This is the real truth behind the relationships portrayed so romantically in 50 Shades of Grey or Secretary. It’s so important for young people to be able to differentiate love from obsession; passion from abuse. Will is an expert in emotional blackmail, picking away at Anna’s self-esteem until he has taken up residence in her psyche, like a parasite.
With domestic abuse on the rise in teenage relationships (and the current storyline in The Archers gripping the country), books like Crush can provide a vital perspective as young people embark on their own romantic journeys. Hopefully, some girls (and boys) will finish Crush better able to spot the dangerous and destructive partners…and avoiding them.
Subtle and gripping and awful and real, Crush should be in every school library and on every librarian’s list of recommended reads for teens. I enjoyed Eve’s Seven Days (her first novel, about bullying, told like Crush from the two protagonists’ perspective), but Crush is a step up. I’m already looking forward to her next one.