Elise (TheBookishActress)'s Reviews > The Dangerous Art of Blending In

The Dangerous Art of Blending In by Angelo Surmelis
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I am so sorry, but I am not giving this review a fair introduction or summary. Two things. One, I'm slightly bothered that Evan’s entire character arc is driven by romance, which is shitty itself in a book about abuse. Two, I'm bothered by the fact that the romance itself is an on fire garbage can.

I want to get into the romance as a character arc thing first, as it’s a good introduction. Evan doesn’t have an arc in this book beyond the messily written one he has because of Henry. And obviously, that’s an annoyance in any book, right? It’s a little boring. But in a book about a suicidal boy trying to recover from abuse, it’s downright disturbing.

The most important thing in getting out of an abusive environment is a strong support system. A romantic relationship that could turn abusive itself? Not a good cure for abuse. Consistent abuse fact – a relationship is not a healthy endeavor until some degree of inner mental recovery is already occurring. Evan is not in a good place to proceed in a serious relationship when his relationship with Henry begins - he is unsure of his sexuality, suicidal, and essentially hanging on to life by a thread. He has not at all begun a recovery process, even an inner one, and the narrative of this book is not, in my opinion, cognizant of the delicacy of his situation with Harry: What a person in his situation needs is a support system of people who want what is best for him and are willing to step away when he needs them to. Henry is not that, nor can any teenager - or any one person - be that. This message is one not of empowerment, but of romance being the cure for an abusive situation.

I definitely have a penchant for getting slightly annoyed at the prevalence of cure-romance tropes in books about abuse. But I want to make it really clear I think romances can be done well, and handled respectfully. Obviously Evan, were he a real life person (which he is not), would be in his own situation that might not conform to real-world standards of health – but again, it feels as if the narrative doesn't know there's any danger in a romantic situation. As is touched on in books like Heather Demetrios’ Bad Romance, turning to romance as a cure for abuse can be a really simple transition to further abuse: abuse survivors sometimes lack support systems necessary to leave future bad relationships (true for Evan) or the type of self-esteem they need (also very true for Evan.)

And it’s this fact, above any other, that makes this specific romance so completely disturbing.


why this romance feels toxic: a discussion


Evan is a teenager dealing with severe abuse who is still struggling with his sexuality and most importantly, has no support system beyond Henry.

🌺 Evan has literally no support system beyond Henry – no family members, no caring friends, not one other person who is aware of the abuse. This is not inherently horrible thing; Evan’s situation is difficult and turning to others seems, to him, likely to backfire. If Henry were kind and patient with Evan and allowed him space and a chance to make his own decisions, that might be one thing. But it is my opinion that the dynamic between Evan and Henry in this situation leaves Evan a lack of choice in proceeding with this relationship.

I think this is a narrative problem, but the writing of the romance makes it worse. Take this quote [emphasis mine]:
[approximately page 99.] “Evan,” he whispers. “I want to be the one that makes you feel better.”

[approximately page 143.] “Ev, I want to be the one you trust.”

I am so sorry, but this reads like Henry wants this relationship because he wants to be “the one” who makes Evan feel better. This reads like isolation.

🌸 Henry, who as we’ve mentioned is Evan’s ONLY CONFIDANTE, gets angry – actually, physically angry – at Evan multiple times during this book for... well, the intention might be Evan's fair-weather friendship, but it reads like Henry is angry at Evan for being unsure about a romantic relationship. Being upset by your friend’s ignorance of friendship is understandable, but Henry’s desire for a romantic relationship with Evan is not an acceptable reason to be angry at Evan. Though the book is later very clear that Evan has wanted this relationship all along, Henry has no way of knowing that. The power dynamic between them is skewed in this situation, something which neither the characters nor the meta-narrative seem to be aware of.

🌺 Perhaps as a result of this problem, Henry’s prioritization of his own feelings over Evan’s is disturbing at best. In one major scene, Henry feels abandoned by Evan. He responds to this by yelling at Evan for leaving him and guilting him into a romantic relationship. Evan is given little agency within the scene.
[approximately page 142.] I stand there silent and in awe of this boy in front of me who is so raw, trusting, open. This one person who has never judged me.
“You have to say something. Don’t leave me out here alone and don’t you dare fucking leave.”
“What?”
“That’s what you do. You just leave. Don’t do this to me. Not now. I’m fucking putting out so much stuff and if you just pull your shit...”


🌸 The consent issues are... there, and especially noting the previous issues, vaguely disturbed me.
[approximately page 99. ] “I'm staring at the statue and and I shift my body slightly away from Henry. He takes the waistband of my of my sweatshirt in his hand and pulls me in a bit. I put my head down, still turning away. He nudges himself even close and starts to slowly life the shirt over my head. I feel paralyzed, scared, thrilled. I stop him. 'Henry. Please.'
He's close enough that I can smell the mint chip ice cream on his breath. Henry whispers, 'Ev, I want to be the one that helps you feel better.'
Using whatever willpower I can grab on to, I pull away and say 'No. This isn't what you want. What I want.'”

So, okay, in one of the first romantic scenes of the book, Henry tries to take Evan’s shirt off his body and see his scars without any sort of consent even after Evan explicitly says no.

This is not isolated!! Ignoring that the earlier page 142 quote is sort of badly written, it occurs one paragraph before they kiss. Evan does not ever say yes to said kiss, and the way it was written did not feel totally consensual to me. Here's the passage:
[approximately page 143.] “Instead I say, 'I'm scared.'
'Me too, but also not scared.'
He walks over to where I'm standing. He's now right in front of me. My skin feels tingly. He grabs the bottom of my shirt with both hands and pulls me close to him. I stop breathing. He shifts himself even closer and starts putting his hand under my shirt toward my back. I feel paralyzed, scared, thrilled. As if ice water is pumping inside my body. He leans in closer. I can feel his breath on my skin. He whispers, 'Ev, I want to be the one you trust.' ...he leans in and kisses me, full soft, hard, and without any hesitation.”

Okay. So Evan is actually enjoying this moment, and I hate to be a buzzkill, but Henry has no indication that he is enjoying this or wants this. The last thing Evan has said before this first kiss is “I’m scared” - which is in reference to internalized homophobia, but again, Henry doesn't know that. He is clearly paralyzed. He has not actually said that he is attracted to Henry or that he actually wants Henry to kiss him.

There's another scene, and I would love if someone would send me the quotes because I seem to not have photographed them, in which Henry sticks his hand under Evan’s thigh while Henry’s family is in the car and while they are on the outs, something Evan and I share equal levels of discomfort around. How is sticking your hand under your ex's thigh in a car with your family - when your ex is not even out of the closet- acceptable behavior?

If one of these scenes occurred and every other scene had clear consent, I would not be too bothered; relationships and consent for stuff like kissing can be complicated. But I don't know, dudes, it feels like there's barely any consent in this relationship? Almost all of their kisses are initiated by Henry, and several romantic interactions are initiated when Evan's only outward expression is "no". As a trend in the book, Henry reads like he has no respect for Evan’s boundaries.

🌺 Another element that feels like it might be a result of bad writing, but is frightening considering the context: Henry has extreme mood swings and his moods and emotions seem to change on the dot. In one scene, he goes from smiling in one paragraph to saying he’d like to hurt Evan’s mom in the next.
[approximately page 143.] He turns to me, smiling. “Where are we going?”
I briefly glance back at him and then I look back at the road. “Patience.” In a moment I say, “I shouldn’t believe in anything. Sometimes I don’t. I used to pray for God to help me and that never happened, but maybe that’s the way it works.”
I know what I want to do would cause more pain and trouble for you.” Henry’s voice sounds dark.

Henry is in fact referring to hurting Evan’s abusive mom, which... we’ll talk about, but guys, notice the huge mood swing (not to mention making the event entirely about himself)? I did. This feels, to me, like the precursor of an abusive relationship.

Henry is also, as I think this paragraph exemplifies to some degree, sort of angry and threatening towards people hurting Evan, due to knowing Evan is in a physically abusive situation. And I want to be careful with this, because like, mood, Henry. But in most cases, telling someone you want to kill their mom... is not an actually good way to handle abuse? Henry says he wants to hurt or kill Evan’s mom multiple times, to a point where Evan feels the need to talk him down, and it feels bad – talking down your partner from anger all the time is not healthy.

This IS a book by an actual survivor of abuse, and I absolutely respect that he was able to tell this story. And aside from the scenes between Evan and Henry, I don’t think this book was completely horrid. The scene with the priest and Evan is super powerful; a few scenes in which Evan's mom is nice to him after weeks of horrifying comments are scarily accurate to experiences I’ve had. Beyond that, it is so valuable to have books about queer and lgbtq abuse survivors in our culture today, and it’s arguably revolutionary we have any. Whether you’re reading this or not, I'd really recommend reading some great books about lgbtq abuse survivors: I’m a fan of Ashley Herring Blake's How to Make a Wish, an #ownvoices book featuring a bi lead and sapphic romance, and Alice Oseman's Radio Silence, by a bisexual author and featuring a gay lead and mlm romance. There’s even the damn Raven Cycle (which is not ownvoices). That our stories even have a chance to be published is amazing. But I just can’t recommend this in good conscience.

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Reading Progress

March 12, 2017 – Shelved
March 12, 2017 – Shelved as: releases-to-check-out
March 27, 2017 – Shelved as: releases-2018-2019
July 11, 2017 – Shelved as: releases-2018-maybe
September 24, 2017 – Shelved as: releases-2018-2019
September 24, 2017 – Shelved as: releases-2018
October 11, 2017 – Shelved as: on-my-shelf-arcs
October 26, 2017 – Shelved as: on-my-shelf-current
December 11, 2017 – Shelved as: must-reads-arcs
December 15, 2017 – Shelved as: must-reads-2018-jan
January 7, 2018 – Started Reading
January 7, 2018 – Shelved as: books-read-2018
January 7, 2018 – Shelved as: books-released-2018
January 7, 2018 – Shelved as: marked-as-arcs
January 7, 2018 – Shelved as: genre-contemporary
January 7, 2018 – Shelved as: narratives-on-abuse-trauma
January 7, 2018 –
page 50
14.88% "okay I technically got this far at 11 pm on Jan 6 but it's okay i'm not up at 2 am or anything"
January 7, 2018 –
page 151
44.94% "I am uh... how you say... having a really big problem with the romance in this"
January 8, 2018 – Finished Reading
January 9, 2018 – Shelved as: 1-star

Comments Showing 1-44 of 44 (44 new)

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message 1: by [deleted user] (new)

elise u can't do this. I MEAN YOU CAN. YOU OBVIOUSLY CAN


Elise (TheBookishActress) @ilsa lmao i love you ❤️❤️ and I’m doing my best!! gosh!!


message 3: by Sanne ♔ (new)

Sanne ♔ (Sanne and the Books) Oh my goodness that is horrible. I really don't want to read this book anymore :/


message 4: by amy ☂︎ (new)

amy ☂︎ you should take your snapchat rant and turn it into a 30 minute youtube video


message 5: by [deleted user] (new)

why is this on my tbr *shivers*


Elise (TheBookishActress) @amy maybeso.gif

@ilsa it was one of my most anticipated releases ://

@sanne yeah it was not my fav


message 7: by amy ☂︎ (new)

amy ☂︎ pls


message 8: by Melanie (new)

Melanie Wow, this is a really good review, Elise. Thank you so much for it.


Elise (TheBookishActress) Melanie wrote: "Wow, this is a really good review, Elise. Thank you so much for it."

thank you <3 i am so annoyed at how horrible I found this, tbh.


message 10: by Biz (new)

Biz that book sounds utterly awful good lord


message 11: by Elise (new) - rated it 1 star

Elise (TheBookishActress) Rachael wrote: "that book sounds utterly awful good lord"

it was messy


message 12: by MJ (new)

MJ (butchiebooking) oh yikes :( i was so looking forward to this. not anymore though. the last thing us gays need is books romanticizing abuse in our relationships :/


message 13: by Elise (new) - rated it 1 star

Elise (TheBookishActress) @Moxxi BIG mood like please I just want non abusive gays pls I’m a nice and incredibly gay person


message 14: by ellie (new) - added it

ellie yikes.mp3


message 15: by camie ✿ (new)

camie ✿ haven't read the book but your review is amazing, i think you give excellent points, i can see people liking the relationship just because is a mlm so i think your review is important. xx


message 16: by Elise (new) - rated it 1 star

Elise (TheBookishActress) @ellie yup yup yup

@Cammie thank you!! and I think that’s super likely :// I don’t think I’ve read / heard of enough other books about queer abuse survivors, so I was hoping this would be amazing, but it just was NOT


message 17: by Acqua (new)

Acqua This does sound awful. YA publishing needs to get rid of the idea that everything needs to have a romance, or we are still going to get these ~saved/cured by the love interest~ books. This is... the wrong message to give, on so many levels.


message 18: by Elise (new) - rated it 1 star

Elise (TheBookishActress) Acqua wrote: "This does sound awful. YA publishing needs to get rid of the idea that everything needs to have a romance, or we are still going to get these ~saved/cured by the love interest~ books. This is... th..."

I completely agree. and I think messages like this are sort of a sore spot for me and I tend to react to them strongly, but this book bothered me a lot.


destiny ♡⚔♡ [howling libraries] Thank you for this review, Elise. I started this book last night before seeing your review, and I got a few chapters in but really wasn't enjoying the narrative at all, so I thought I'd look on here and see if it got any better. After reading your review on it, though, I think I'm just gonna let the publicist know it's not for me and DNF it.


message 20: by Elise (new) - rated it 1 star

Elise (TheBookishActress) destiny wrote: "Thank you for this review, Elise. I started this book last night before seeing your review, and I got a few chapters in but really wasn't enjoying the narrative at all, so I thought I'd look on her..."

I'm really sorry you didn't like it either :(( this was just..... not fun


destiny ♡⚔♡ [howling libraries] Elise wrote: "destiny wrote: "Thank you for this review, Elise. I started this book last night before seeing your review, and I got a few chapters in but really wasn't enjoying the narrative at all, so I thought..."

Agreed. :( And it sucks because we get so few own-voice m/m books that I want to support all of them(!!!!) but then shit like this happens, lmao.


message 22: by Elise (new) - rated it 1 star

Elise (TheBookishActress) destiny wrote: "Elise wrote: "destiny wrote: "Thank you for this review, Elise. I started this book last night before seeing your review, and I got a few chapters in but really wasn't enjoying the narrative at all..."

mooooooooooood. I was so hoping this would be a new favorite.


message 23: by Julian (new)

Julian Thank you for writing this. I now know to avoid this book :/ Shame, it sounded so promising.


message 24: by [deleted user] (new)

Thank you very much for this honest and forthright review. I'm straight, I've never known many people in the gay community, but I am aware that domestic/relationship abuse is seen by most as a "straight issue" and the fact is that many gay or questioning people (especially teenagers) are just as much - if not more - at risk of this sort of horrible thing happening to them. It's not okay to sweep it under the rug, and I wholeheartedly support survivors of ANY kind of abuse standing up to tell their stories and give HOPE (not misinformation) to the world.


message 25: by Jordyn (new)

Jordyn Snyder Wow! I had no idea this book was like this. I haven’t read it but I’ve seen it around. Now I have lost my desire to spend money on such literature.
Good review though!!!


message 26: by Noah (new) - added it

Noah I had his on my to-read list until I read your review. Thank you for making sure I didn't waste my time!


message 27: by Elise (new) - rated it 1 star

Elise (TheBookishActress) hey, sorry for missing all the comments on here, but thank you for all the comments <3 <3


Mariamne Söderström This book is not a pure fantasy, neither does it proclaim a wish to describe the perfect development. So why do you expect it to? To go from a horrible relationship to maybe only a slightly better is super realistic. And H at least apologizes for scaring E at one point. He is a teenager too, how realistic would it be if he were calm as a counsellor?


message 29: by Elise (new) - rated it 1 star

Elise (TheBookishActress) @Mariamne no one is asking for a pure fantasy and a relationship with zero problems. my problem is that nothing I pointed out about this relationship is presented as a bad thing. With regards to the apology comment, if Henry scaring Evan thing were the only issue I had with this relationship, I would not have hated this book. There are several different problems listed up here. Also, I don’t know where you’re getting “calm as a counselor“ as I didn’t say he should be. I’m saying Evan having to talk Henry down from being angry multiple times in one book feels really weird given the context of other vaguely creepy things about this relationship.

As to “why do you expect it to”: maybe because I don’t think a book about an abuse survivor should romanticize an relationship that shows a lot of classic signs of abuse?


message 30: by Vika (new) - rated it 3 stars

Vika Len I was still reading the book when I read your review and god it gets so much worse, completely understand now


message 31: by Malobee (new)

Malobee Silvertongue I was thinking about picking this up, and I am glad I read your review before doing so. Going to go ahead and nope out of this one. Thanks!


message 32: by Jen (new) - rated it 4 stars

Jen 1. There’s quite a few spoilers in the review, but I didn’t see the Spoilers disclaimer - maybe I missed it?
2. I hope no one takes this fictional book as a textbook guide for abuse recovery or how to have a healthy relationship. This YA novel is loosely based on the author’s life and is a work of fiction for entertainment purposes.
3. I was really off-put by this review. If a reviewer wishes to critique the character development or story arc, please go ahead, but I prefer novel reviewers who leave the deep psychological analysis at the door. In this case especially, the author’s purpose was not to write a self-help book. It’s not a case study.


message 33: by Elise (new) - rated it 1 star

Elise (TheBookishActress) Jen wrote: "1. There’s quite a few spoilers in the review, but I didn’t see the Spoilers disclaimer - maybe I missed it?
2. I hope no one takes this fictional book as a textbook guide for abuse recovery or how..."


well, I'm glad you're really off-put by my review, but I also don't truly care that much.

i think i have the right to point out that, in my opinion, which I developed through reading this book and then posted on Goodreads, a website for opinions on books, this romanticizes several toxic tropes and sends awful messages. i would hope no one takes it as a textbook guide, but i also know that this is a young adult book - aka for a primarily teen audience - and so could impact young adult readers. i also think it really doesn't matter who it impacts, because guess what? toxic tropes will impact how much i like a book. like, that's how it works. that's how reading works.

I am analyzing my feelings on this book. if you're put off by someone's review because toxic relationships are not what you care to hear about, that's fine, but there's really no need to leave a comment about how much you disliked this review. reviews are, to me, about honest thoughts. these are honest thoughts. you can really just find another reviewer.


message 34: by Malobee (new)

Malobee Silvertongue Elise wrote: "Jen wrote: "1. There’s quite a few spoilers in the review, but I didn’t see the Spoilers disclaimer - maybe I missed it?
2. I hope no one takes this fictional book as a textbook guide for abuse rec..."


Elise, I hope you don't mind if I add another point (this popped up in my notifications since I commented earlier). One of the things about toxic tropes is that they do not exist in a vacuum. Tropes exist because they span across mediums within pop culture and literature. Because of this it does continue to contribute to narratives that can be extremely damaging societally, especially when it comes to the normalization of abuse, or idealizing relationships that are extremely toxic. This is just a book, but according to some of the things that came up in this review are tropes that become beams that support a structural issue.

I also am a bit put out by your comment, Jen, mainly because I liked this extremely thoughtful review, that your only input was to complain about a difference in approach for analysis (or apparently in your case lack thereof) without contributing anything to thoughtful discussion, for instance why you didn't have a problem with any of the things brought up in this particular review. To me, it seems as though you came here specifically to try to insult the reviewer, which is just kind of rude (and what triggered my probably overactive solidarity on the Internet gland). :P


message 35: by Elise (new) - rated it 1 star

Elise (TheBookishActress) Malobee wrote: "Elise wrote: "Jen wrote: "1. There’s quite a few spoilers in the review, but I didn’t see the Spoilers disclaimer - maybe I missed it?
2. I hope no one takes this fictional book as a textbook guide..."


thank you so much, Malobee! this really needed to be said. i think a lot of commenters on negative reviews especially seem to take negative reviews as an insult on their person, which they are not.


message 36: by P (new) - added it

P The main review is entirely untrue. This story has meaning beyond recognition because it speaks from the heart and to the soul. As a young gay man I feel Evan’s pain and inner disagreements with his sexuality, and I understand it. The book brings tears to my eyes when Evan is abused and tormented for his true identity, but not only that, I have read this book more than 10 times because I feel the love that is had between Henry and Evan is so true and pure that not even the rudest words can tear them down. I love that they love each other and my bad emotions just melt away because I know that everything will be ok for Evan and he will be truly happy because of Henry. I feel pure joy from this book and I suggest it to anyone who is ready to cry and love at the same time.


message 37: by Elise (new) - rated it 1 star

Elise (TheBookishActress) @P I’m so glad you were able to enjoy this book! I would also ask you: how does a book speaking from the heart and the soul negate the implications of actions within the primary relationship?


message 38: by Kyra (new) - rated it 3 stars

Kyra Carmack After I read this book I had to agree with you about the relationship. I spent a good hour ranting to my girl friend about it. I really wanted to like this book (I gave it 3 stars for the realistic elements throughout the book on abuse and how his home life was handled. It lost 2 stars just because of the relationships and the way the story didn't seem to progress toward a solution). I wished that Evan could have grown more as a character on his own (and I wished he had a good support system) but so much was holding him back and things just kept getting worse and worse for him as things continued.


message 39: by Elise (new) - rated it 1 star

Elise (TheBookishActress) Kyra wrote: "After I read this book I had to agree with you about the relationship. I spent a good hour ranting to my girl friend about it. I really wanted to like this book (I gave it 3 stars for the realistic..."

SAME. it just felt super unhealthy, and super messed up. I was not happy about it at all. I'm sorry you didn't like it either :((


message 40: by Vanessa (new)

Vanessa This is a great, in-depth critical analysis. I appreciate you taking the time to go over so many good points.


message 41: by Elise (new) - rated it 1 star

Elise (TheBookishActress) Thank you so much, VW!! It’s always nice to get complimentary comments on this one ❤️❤️


message 42: by haley (new) - rated it 1 star

haley I totally agree with your analysis of the relationship between Evan and Henry. I wanted to love this book but the romance just felt incredibly unhealthy to me. Excellent review!


message 43: by Elise (new) - rated it 1 star

Elise (TheBookishActress) haley wrote: "I totally agree with your analysis of the relationship between Evan and Henry. I wanted to love this book but the romance just felt incredibly unhealthy to me. Excellent review!"

thank you so much, haley. it makes me really sad that others have agreed :/


message 44: by Bess (new) - rated it 4 stars

Bess Wadler On the one hand, you’re absolutely right - the Henry-Evan romance is sitting atop a ruined foundation. On the other hand, it’s very much true to life. These are 17 and 18 year old young men, making their first experiments in sexual relationships, trying to figure out what it means to love each other, despite less than ideal circumstances. We don’t get to pick the cards we’re dealt. Romance doesn’t want to wait for a therapist; sometimes a dangerous situation is as safe as it’s going to get. Given a set of challenges, what choices are these people going to make?


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