Friday, July 19, 2013

Michelle Kemper Brownlow's In Too Deep, Review by Christine Locke

Today, I'm delighted to take part in the Blog Tour for Michelle Kemper Brownlow, author of In Too Deep. My review of In Too Deep follows the synopsis and author information, below.  An ARC was received in exchange for an honest review.

Gracie has just finished her freshman year of college in Memphis when she takes a job at a local pizza joint in her home town of McKenzie, Tennessee. She is the epitome of innocence when she meets Noah. Noah is unabashedly handsome, intriguingly reckless and just cocky enough to be sexy. Gracie’s instincts tell her to stay far away from him and based on the stories she hears from her co-workers he leaves broken hearts in his wake. But still, she can’t explain her fascination with him.
Noah puts aside his bad boy ways when what he thought was a summer crush has him unexpectedly falling in love. But soon after Gracie transfers to UT Knoxville to be with Noah, their unexpected love becomes riddled with anger, deceit and humiliation.

Jake, Noah’s former roommate and Gracie’s best friend, can no longer be a bystander. Gracie’s world falls out from beneath her and when she breaks she turns to Jake for strength. As Jake talks her through a decision she’s not yet strong enough to make, together they uncover a truth so ugly neither of them is prepared for its fallout. Will Jake pull her to the surface or is Gracie Jordan finally In Too Deep?

Meet the Author

Michelle Kemper Brownlow has been a storyteller her entire life. Her debut was on the high school cheerleading bus granting requests to re-tell her most embarrassing moments for a gaggle of hysterical squadmates.
Earning her Bachelor’s degree from Penn State University in Art Education and then marrying her very own “Jake,” she moved to Binghamton, NY where she taught high school. After having two children she quit work and finished her Master’s degree in Elementary Education at Binghamton University.
The Brownlow family of four moved to Michelle’s hometown of Morgantown, PA while the children were still quite young. A few years after moving, her family grew by one when they welcomed a baby into their home through the gift of adoption. The family still resides in PA, just miles from where that high school cheer bus was parked.
Michelle has been an artist for as long as she can remember, always choosing pencils and crayons over toys and puzzles. As a freelance illustrator, her simple characters play the starring roles in numerous emergent reader books published by Reading Reading Books.
“Writing is my way of making sense of the world. When I give my characters life on the pages I write, it frees up space in my mind to welcome in new stories that are begging to be told,” says Brownlow.
Twitter: @MK_Brownlow

Review of In Too Deep:
Have you ever wondered why a friend stayed in a relationship that was not physically abusive but still tortured her?  Have you ever been frustrated by her inability to see what everyone else clearly did?  And, if she did seem to see it, has it driven you crazy that she just won't walk away?  If you've answered "yes," read In Too Deep to better understand your friend and how to help her.

Five Stars

Confession: I didn't like the story at first.  Gracie drove me nuts.  Too sheltered!  Too innocent! Too naive!

I kept reading, though, and, then, the revelation: Gracie was me--not the me of now, but the me of 20 years ago.  I felt like rocks dropped from my stomach and pounded the soles of my feet as I understood this.  Sh*t, I thought, as Gracie uttered things like: "[Our love] wasn't a given.  It would only survive if I protected it," or "I...wished I could predict his reactions.  They were never the same twice.  I was always walking on eggshells."  Or, how about this beauty?  "'It's not like he knows he's making me feel that way.  I just do.'"

Some books tick you off because they make you realize or remember something about yourself, something you thought you were better off forgetting.  If you've ever experienced an abusive relationship similar to the one portrayed by In Too Deep, then reading this book will not be easy.  It's going to take you back to that place, and it's going to make you wish you'd had a book like this one when you went through what you did.  I didn't like Gracie much at first, because Gracie made me remember being...well, Gracie.

You should read this book if you've been through emotional abuse.  Even if you faced your own situation years ago, remembering can keep you compassionate (yes, it's OK for you to imagine me wiping a little egg off my face right about now) toward less experienced women who now endure what you once did.  If you are a survivor of emotional abuse, reading this book may be very helpful to you in understanding what happened and why you felt the way you did.

But let's take a few minutes here to discuss the intended audience for this book: New Adult women.  Although it's controversial, I do like the term, "New Adult" as a way to define a literary audience.  I like that it identifies contemporary fiction intended for women too old to need protection from "adult" activity descriptions but too young to have much personal experience of those same activities.  In Too Deep is a great example of the emerging genre of New Adult fiction and at the same time it is a great test case for understanding why we need that genre, separate and apart from, say, "Young Adult Romance."

In Too Deep is a romance novel and does contain explicit descriptions of sex.  In Too Deep also describes abusive situations that are very realistically portrayed but are not appropriate for a young audience.  But In Too Deep gives the reader an incredibly realistic and detailed portrayal of how a bright, lovely, and well-loved young woman finds herself entwined in a relationship she clearly must escape but feels she can't.  I've never seen this paradox so carefully explored.  

As for the story, I enjoyed it a great deal, which is significant since I am not much of a romance reader.  This is a very romantic, sweet tale--which comes as a surprise since for much of the novel Gracie is crying--or heaving.  She heaved a lot, to tell the truth.  For me, the best part of the book was the middle, as I was fascinated by the way Brownlow depicted the abuser's ability to draw Gracie back in again and again.  The ending of the novel is romantically satisfying and concludes the narrative well, but I was a little concerned to see Gracie jump from an abusive relationship into another relationship with a friend.  Don't get me wrong--Brownlow handles this very well and for the novel's story it works beautifully.  But, in real life, a victim of abuse like Gracie might have to find a way to stand alone for a while before she connects to someone new, and that can be very discouraging.

I'm giving this story 5* because it does something I have never seen before: In Too Deep entertains the reader with a sweet romance while at the same time effectively educating her/him on the causes, the allure, and the aftereffects of emotional abuse.

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