Reviewer’s Note: I have a few creative pieces to share with the reflection on this book, but that’ll come after my initial reflections, which I’m penning at present. It’s probably going to be in the form of slam poetry, but just have to think about how I’ll do it.
Initial reflection/review: I feel pretty emotionally manipulated finishing this book, and I’ve been in this position before reading within the scope of New Adult, so much that I’ve almost become numb to it because it’s just the same template over and over again. I thought Colleen Hoover wouldn’t buy into this kind of thing, and mostly, I feel like I was wrong because reading “Ugly Love” was so paint by numbers on one hand, and a rough slog in the wrong way on another. Maybe I’m just now seeing it and maybe her other works have done pretty much the same thing, but at this point, I don’t know. I’ve read every book in her “Slammed” series, read each narrative in the “Hopeless” books, and I’ve read her standalones. I think she has a great eye to the intimacies of pain and sensuality in her narratives, but the prejudices and stereotypes within the narrative are often what ruin the narratives that I pick up from her. I think that’s also what happened with “Ugly Love.”
Don’t get me wrong, there are times in this book when it feels like an emotional read and the pieces of the narrative fit with the level of grief for events that occur (even if some moments are a little too easily resolved or the conflict). But seriously, how many narratives are we going to get in the scheme of New Adult where a tragic past allows you to act like a jerk and then become magically forgiven because love and sex are what you need to heal?
That’s not realistic at all, and I’m pretty fed up with it to be honest with you.
On some levels, all the stories that we have to tell about our lives involve deeply rooted measures of pain within them. All of us do. How we deal with that pain helps shape the way that we live our lives and interact with other people. That’s life, man. It can shape our attitudes, it can make us angry, fearful, numb, brash, emboldened, empowered, a number of different reactions that can be on the kaleidoscope of human emotion – positive, negative, or somewhere in the between. But for the record, we can’t escape responsibility for the things we say or do, or the way we treat other people. Forgiveness is not always an option that people vie for, and there are some who depart the world without ever coming to terms with those things. We’d like to think and hope that people will grow and rise above their pains/circumstances and find an HEA in the balance, but that doesn’t always happen. It really doesn’t.
I understood the intent of “Ugly Love.” The whole way through it, I kind of knew the direction it was going in, but for execution, it was extremely rough. You have three individuals the narrative focuses on: Tate, Miles, and Rachel. Miles is the centerpiece of the narrative because it focuses on his relationships between these women – him and Rachel about six years ago, and him and Tate in the present day. There’s an assumption that *something* happened with Miles and Rachel’s relationship that made it turn to ruin, and an assumption that *something* is preventing Miles from taking a relationship with Tate that amounts to more than just an interaction of instalust and sex. Thing about it is, it’s just a matter of waiting for the other shoe to drop in terms of the why.
For me, the “why” wasn’t the problem, the “getting to that point” was. I had a hard time connecting with the characters and their respective situations. Tate’s a nursing student trying to makes ends meet, ends up staying with her rather controlling/protective brother at his apartment complex. Befriends an 80-year old elevator dude, discovers a drunk 20 something guy at her brother’s apartment doorstep, and she discovers the drunk dude is an intense guy in which she thinks “Holy heck, he’s hot, I can see his “V”!” There are events in here that a nursing student would never do for procedure or practice, and as for the V she’s referring to – it’s his “Apollo’s belt”/illiac crest (some people say that’s among the most attractive parts of the male body, but females can have that same cut at the hips/stomach too.)
The drunk dude (Miles) ends up having an intense attraction with Tate, but pretty much gives her two rules: “Don’t ask about a past, and don’t expect anything for the future.” Which, dude, I don’t know if you got the memo, but those are the building blocks for a relationship – romantic or not.
The narrative trades between the present day with Tate’s growing relationship with Miles, and the moments six years before when Miles and Rachel started their relations. Miles’s narrative is weird from the get go, because he starts off with regular exposition and then his sections morph into an odd narrative poetic style that’s supposed to show how he falls in love. It really ends up being kind of a whiny, self-indulgent exposition about Rachel and his lust/love for her. Take these snippets from the text as examples:
“My thoughts aren’t thoughts anymore.
My thoughts are Rachel.
I can’t fall in love with you, Rachel.
I look at the sink. I want to look at Rachel.
I breathe in air. I want to breathe in Rachel.
I close my eyes. I only see Rachel.
I wash my hands. I want to touch Rachel.”
“My new favorite flavor is Rachel.
My new favorite thing is Rachel.
I want Rachel for my birthday. I want Rachel for Christmas. I
want Rachel for graduation.
Rachel, Rachel, Rachel.
I’m gonna fall in love with you anyway, Rachel.
The back door opens.
I release Rachel.”
Too repetitive and kind of creepy instead of being romantic. They haven’t even graduated high school yet. Things become more complicated as their relationship grows, and carries on in secret even when their parents start having a relationship of their own and moving their families in together. Talk about awkward.
While there are moments of sensual intimacy that shine in the narrative (and Hoover is good at establishing this), the rest of it is so trite that the poetic form does nothing for it. I thought it came across as very juvenile and it undersold Miles’s perspective for a good long while. I found it hard to connect with him.
Tate’s perspective grated on me for certain prejudices and assumptions she made against Miles, even with not knowing his past. Dude, just because a guy hasn’t had sex in six years doesn’t mean something’s wrong with him (i.e. in Tate’s suggestions, she assumes he’s either gay or has an STD. He laughs it off, but I kept thinking “WTAF?!!!”) Hoover’s last narrative, “Maybe Someday,” had problems with the presentation of its disabled characters that ruined the narrative for me, while this one had stereotypes against those who are gay that made me wince in progression. It wasn’t right.
I think the early parts of the narrative were extremely puerile for showing the plights of the characters, and that’s a shame because when the heavier part of Miles’s past comes to light, it’s an emotional one.
You can’t argue with the tragic death of a child in an accident and the falling out of a relationship because of that, even when Miles tried his best to save his and Rachel’s son.
But there’s no amount of a tragic past that makes it excusable to be a jerk to the person you love. Miles claims to love Tate, but he treats her like something to be used or thrown away – walking away and forcing her to leave his apartment after sex, not looking at her directly in their intimate moments, and even calling her by Rachel’s name during one of their sexy times. Tate ends up telling him to “finish” instead of pulling away from him and running out while she can.
There’s no excuse for that. Why is it in these narratives that guys get away with controlling women and using them for *their own* pleasure, just to subsequently toss them aside like they don’t matter? Tate recognizes this, but she still decides to stick around him because of his hot body and the fact that she suspects he has a tragic past and thinks there’s some hope in “healing” him and making him recognize his love for her, but that’s no excuse. It really isn’t at all.
In the end, this wasn’t worth the long slog, and the juvenile, sometimes even inaccurate reflection of realistic plights and trials of the characters made this a hard sell for me. It’s so formulaic that it really doesn’t shake the conventions of the genre, and feels gimmicky instead of genuine. I would almost say if you want something that’s more steamy, with great character chemistry and realistic in the vein of a real nurse and a “bad boy who’s hurting” characterization: I’d recommend Cara McKenna’s “After Hours.” It runs circles around this narrative and then some.
Overall score: 1/5 stars
I had to think a bit in terms of how I wanted to reflect on this book and I realized, it’s probably better to keep it serious since it deals with such a serious set of subject matters. I have to respect that, even if I didn’t like the way it was presented and subsequently told.
These are two slam-style poems I’ve written from the perspective the primary characters in this novel: Miles and Tate. Writing these kind of puts into perspective the whole struggle of the novel for these two characters, some spoilers in tow. Tate’s perspective comes first, in the poem entitled “Left Behind”, while Miles’s poem is entitled “Risk.” Hope you guys enjoy them.
Being left behind can be lonely.
Even when you’re in the same room, you don’t see
How you make me feel when our bodies are pressed
Arms linked, fingers locked, chest to chest.
Yet you can’t even spare me one look in the eyes,
Is there some mask you wear, a disguise
to hide the fact that despite you thinking I’m pretty
That you can’t even take the time to look at me?
I met you that one night, passed out drunk on the floor
Blocking your way towards my brother’s apartment door.
Despite my run-arounds and constant demand
I had to get around you, slamming against your hand…
Oops, my bad! I wake up to your cerulean eyes
And as difficult as it was for you to surmise
The fact that I did not sleep with you,
I still had the courtesy to start our greetings anew.
You tell me not to think of a future, or ask about the past,
When those are things that build trust, make a relationship last.
You say that you want these with no strings
But do I get a say in any of these things?
It’s always boiling down what you can take
And even in the moments when I see you break
This connection isn’t something you can fake
despite all the walls you seem to make.
Still knowing nothing about the person you really are,
Somehow I’m the one trying to take this far.
Sacrificing my own needs, wants, and desires
In the interest of not lighting any fires.
But there’s only so much of this that I can take
With the bubble that builds until it starts to ache
And shakes my senses so that my body begins to quake
“For God’s sake, just leave him already, Tate.”
But I can’t listen to the voice inside my head,
And despite this feeling of dread that leaves me for dead
I can’t leave you, even if you do such to me from mind,
Since I won’t be the one to leave you behind.
Love’s like playing roulette, you don’t know the odds
of a ball finding a slot, fitting peas within pods.
Pieces of yourself finding a match
Somehow finding yourself attached
To the ongoing game, an addiction
that sweeps you up in its restriction
Until you’re lost to your own contrition.
I’ve played this once before.
Back then, I still wanted more,
More of her, more of myself
No need to sort these sentiments on a shelf
For later because the calling’s now, now, now!
My life is here with her, somehow
And despite my youth, that’s all I need to know.
I watched us grow,
Working these seeds of affection to sow
Not even minding the trouble in tow.
Life said it was time to pay the piper
And I became the joker, a fool, a liar.
Risk. That’s what it means to take a chance,
Before you know what hits you in a moment’s glance.
When the loss is someone with which you shared
And the person you love no longer cared
Is anything worth it?
I had it all, before it went all to shit.
Fuck taking chances, life’s not worth romances
I’m done, you hear that? I’m done.
Played with the devil and he’s won.
Had my happiness, thought it was all fun.
Lost a life before it even begun.
Risk. Now you’re asking me to start over.
And no, I have no luck, it’s no four leaf clover.
Things don’t turn around just because you say yes,
And maybe you hold my heart against your chest
With a spade, so that my fate is made.
In this game for two, it’s my move,
And I’ll make sure this time, I’m not the one who’s played.