When Ann meets Connor, she is a straight-A student who runs track and is on the path to a successful, happy life. The problem is that Connor is a troubled young man with abusive tendencies. Of course, Ann doesn’t know this when she gets involved with him, and by the time she finds out, it’s too late: she’s in love with him. If she’s the only one who can fix him and he’s the one who seems to be breaking her, what is the right thing to do?
Amanda Grace is a pen name for Mandy Hubbard, and her first novel under the name is a big old mess. Gimmicky, poorly written, and shoddily executed, nothing about But I Love Him works the way Hubbard intended it to. It starts with the reverse-chronological order and devolves from there.
Hubbard has said in interviews that she chose to tell the story in reverse-chronological order because it removes the reader’s judgment about Connor. I’m not sure of the logic there, because by telling the story backwards, readers have no connection whatsoever to either character and therefore any sympathy for them is minimal at best. Without having gotten to know the sweet side of Connor first, how are readers supposed to connect to him as he literally beats Ann to a bloody pulp?
Then there is the characterization itself. Ann is an unreliable narrator (which I think was Hubbard’s intention), but she’s so poorly developed that it’s hard to even care that she might not be giving readers the full story. As the book moves backward through time, readers are given very little insight into who Ann is or what her attraction to Connor is. Connor himself is treated in much the same way: neither one of these characters have any dimension whatsoever. Who are they? What are their motivations? We don’t know, and by the end of the book, I started to wonder if Hubbard does, either.
Added to the fact that the book feels gimmicky is the fact that it’s incredibly heavy-handed. Ann spends much of the book thinking about and working on a gift for Connor: a sculpture of a heart made out of broken pieces of glass. Seriously. It’s too much, you know?
The good news is that But I Love Him is a quick read. It’s fast-paced (because it wastes no time establishing its characters), the book will resonate with some readers who aren’t looking for anything more than a surface-level story about abuse. Those looking to go deeper might check out something with a bit more substance. Deb Caletti’s Stay comes to mind.
But I Love Him by Amanda Grace. Flux: 2011. Library copy.