My initial thoughts when I first heard about The Taming went something like this: a book based on The Taming of the Shrew. One of the few Shakespeare plays I haven't read, but I did love that movie Ten Things I Hate About You. Okay. What the heck, I'll give this a go.
Have you ever read the summary on a book and somehow not read the last line? On multiple occasions? Didn't think so; it *has* to have been a me thing. I actually managed that here. So when I got part way through this book and things started seriously going south my reaction was essentially "wait what?", and when they drew to their conclusion I was left in stunned silence.
For those who do not know much about this book, it is the chronicling of an abusive relationship from its seemingly beautiful infancy to its ultimately dark and harrowing conclusion. For some readers this will be an appreciated voicing, a true cautionary tale. But for others -- like me -- this may be a case where the correct phrase would be proceed with caution.
The Plot: (Summary from GoodReads)
Katie likes to believe she's invisible. It seems much safer than being exposed as she is--shy, poor, awkward. So getting up on stage in the school production of The Taming of the Shrew should be complete torture. But as Katie tells it, something totally unexpected happened when she stepped on stage: "My head exploded. I loved it. Acting hit me like a sucker punch and I loved, loved, loved it! . . . Invisible Katie became visible Katharina."
Evan Cooper is, as they say, another story. He knows just what it takes to get noticed, and he uses every one of the skills he's honed after years of being the new kid. Like tossing the keys to his father's high-end Audi to a kid he's never met, first day of school. "I have insurance for car theft," he explains to a shocked Danny. "And there's a full tank." An abuse of the power that comes with privilege and money? Sure.
But more dangerously, is his romance with Katie another version of the same thing? Or is it the real thing?
I had no trouble getting started with this book. Kate's character at the start is shockingly self-destructive in the way that she devalues and belittles herself, to the point where it was like when something bad happens on the news and even though we should, we cannot look away. On the other hand, there was Evan. So charming and clever, so easily oiling his way into this new environment. Each seemed to be carrying a secret, a weight of some sort, from the beginning and I was curious to know what those were.
I was enjoying seeing these two get to know each other. At the time I was having a decent amount of fun with it. Sure, Evan seems a little entitled but we know from word go that he has money and this is a fairly common way for someone like that to be characterized. As things began to go wrong, though, I was actually shocked at my initial perceptions of the characters. It was embarrassing enough from the point of view of purely being a writer. It was much worse as someone who has been here, done this and should have seen the tale for what it was from word go.
I will say that not spelling out what the reader is getting is clever. It allows the situations the characters end up in to carry more of a weight or punch. But at the same time, that kind of thing can backfire for certain individuals and it did that here for me. If I had known what I was in for, it is likely that I would have politely declined this one. Not because of any issue with the writing, characterization, etc. Everything here is good. But because my own personal history pre-disposes me to not like or want to read something of this nature.
I love when characters contrast and raise each other toward some central point, some balance. I also love when we get the male and female POV if something is romance. It forces the author(s) to think and come up with something more compelling then a simple lack of communication or leaving the reader in the dark regarding a character's thoughts.
I don't think I ever wanted to be invisible, exactly, but I do recall wanting to be left the heck alone during my high school years. Kids can be cruel and petty and I'd had one too many friends "mess up" in some way or another to the point where I simply got tired of it. I was able to relate to Katie in this regard. She had her own reasons, but the results were the same. I also felt a kinship with her in how she felt able to come alive on a stage. I can't act my way out of a paper bag; my thing is music. But the point remains: having a creative outlet can do wonders for a person and while I was shocked with what I ended up with in Katie and Evan, I am glad that it is Katie's love of acting that helps her gain strength, rather then her need of a boy.
Evan immediately intrigued me, which was cool at the time. It makes my skin crawl now. It makes me feel really, really, stupid. It makes reviewing very hard, because it means two things: (1) my enjoyment in the book was lessened, but (2) the authors did a damn good job at what they set out to do, which was to show how easily someone can slip past a person's defenses, how easily they can seep in if we are not paying attention and watching out for it.
I liked Travis and Lisa. I did not like Katie's mother. And whenever I heard anything about Evan's father I cringed, because for a certain portion of the story Evan actually had my sympathy (and curiosity).
Let me clear this up, one more time: this is not a love story. It is an exceptionally well done account of how something that looks good and exciting and normal can slide until all that is left is rot, and eventually ashes. The only really good thing I can say here is that they did not make the mistake of having Katie be perfectly content without him at the end. They had the guts and the honesty to show that even though she freed herself from him, she was not totally freed of the pain of losing him. Because when you are with someone who is abusive (whether it be physical, sexual, mental or verbal) you slowly go down a slippy slope and your worth becomes tied to their presence. It is *not* something that one breaks overnight and the way we leave Katie at the end is honest, raw and real in keeping with the way the rest of the book was handled.
Let me try and spell this out as clearly as I can. The Taming is an absolutely excellent book that succeeds admirably at what it is trying to do. But what it was trying to do, the path it was trying to take, was honestly not a journey that I wanted to go on. And I would be lying if I said I wasn't just a little annoyed that I didn't realize what I was getting myself into here.
If you are up for what it offers and know what you're diving into, the book is excellent. I just don't want to see anyone else end up in the slightly awkward situation I found myself in here.
And for the record, it is the GoodReads description that had me confused. It's missing a line from the back of the book, at the end of the blurb: "Over the dizzying course of their relationship Katie must confront the fact that the power of love can conceal darker truths.". I think that sums it up nicely.