What a gorgeous gorgeous book! I started reading it in the afternoon and refused to go to sleep until it was finished. I’d like to think that I’m over books set in high school but this book proved me wrong. It had me wrapped around its sweet little ‘fingers’ from beginning to end and I think it had everything to do with the loveable characters. I was looking for an angst-free read and, for most of the book, that is exactly what I got.
The story centres on three characters—Amber, her brother Jake, and Jake’s best friend Liam. We meet them when Amber is 8 and the boys are 10. We are immediately thrown into the household nightmare in which Amber and Jake live, and the horror that the these two kids have to survive each day. They are both physically and emotionally abused by their father and Amber is also being sexually abused by him. We get a short glimpse of an ordinary day in their life, the suffering and helplessness, especially Amber’s and then we get to meet Liam. He lives next door. He sees Amber crying one evening, taps on her window, asks her to let him in, embraces her with a brotherly hug, comforts her through her sobbing and doesn’t let her go until the morning. And so this becomes a daily routine. For the next 8 years, Liam sleeps in Amber’s bed, protects her from her nightmares by simply holding her while she sleeps.
I know what you’re thinking but take your mind out of the gutter right now! It’s one of the most beautiful things I’ve ever seen described. Amber is a traumatised child who cannot bear to be touched. Liam’s touch is the only physical contact (except her mother’s and brother’s) that does not give her panic attacks. He finds a way of calming her down when nothing else works. The whole thing about putting his lips on her neck to help her steady her breathing and calm her down made me cry. Liam is the sweetest male character I have ever come across in my ‘reading travels’. What fascinated me the most at that point was the ‘bipolar’ nature of their relationship – at night, Liam was attentive, sweet, gentle, while during the day their dynamic would change completely. He would tease her incessantly, provoke her just to get a reaction from her, and do everything he could to appear like a player in everyone’s eyes, including Amber’s. The only thing he couldn’t hide during the day was his protective streak towards her.
And so their relationship evolves. One kiss and nothing is the same after that. We discover the depth of Liam’s feelings for Amber, how he has loved her from the first moment he laid eyes on her when she was 4 and he thought he was staring at an angel. He loves her so beautifully and so unconditionally that it made my heart melt. But he also loves her patiently, never pushing her out of her comfort zone and always making her feel like the most beautiful and adored girl in the world. Amber takes her time to realise that she loves him too but he never pressures her into it. I was constantly expecting something to ruin their fairy-tale romance, maybe because it normally happens in the books I read, but I was very happy that nothing ever did. Amber had survived through so much ugliness in her life and I was happy that she got to have this one positive and bright constant in her life – Liam’s love.
The other important relationship in this book is between Amber and her brother Jake. Jake has protected her ever since their father’s abuse started when they were kids. He would provoke the father just to shelter Amber from the beatings and he would comfort her afterwards. It was only natural that he became an over-protective brother later on who threatened any guy who got even mildly interested in Amber. Including Liam. In the beginning, Amber and Liam’s relationship was kept secret from Jake fearing his reaction. When he does find out, I can’t say that I was surprised that he doesn’t overreact as everyone would have expected. He witnesses first-hand the unique bond that Liam and Amber have developed, his protectiveness towards her and the way only Liam can make her snap out of her almost-catatonic reactions to memories of past abuse and mentions of their father. I didn’t think it was unrealistic that he didn’t go all ‘nuclear’ at Liam – Jake has perceived himself as Amber’s protector ever since he can remember and her emotional well-being and safety came first for him. However, he knew that he never had the calming effect on Amber that Liam had and eventually his love and concern for Amber overtook his over-protectiveness.
This book is not about the abuse itself as it is only really happening at the start and end of the book. This book is about the trauma that physical/sexual abuse causes and about coping mechanisms. And it is a book about love, pure untainted love. I had no expectations whatsoever when I started reading it, so I was only pleasantly surprised by how much I found myself enjoying it cover to cover. I compare reading this book to eating a really big bar of chocolate—enjoyable throughout, with occasional pieces of marshmallows or chilli in it, and I knew it would make me crave for more.
“I call you Angel because, I honestly believe that God put an Angel on this earth just for me. The first time I saw you I thought you were an Angel straight from heaven. You were so beautiful that you took my breath away. You still do, every day.”