Better (Too Good series)
*spoiler alert* If you haven’t read book #1 yet (“Good“) skip this review as it explores the continuation of the story from where it left off. I LOVED #1 (it’s an edgy, risky taboo love story and you can read my review here).
<— Better was good! But… Good was better (for me) because of the forbidden and taboo nature of the initial story. Book #1 (Good) explored an intense slow-burning and then consequences-be-damned illicit love affair between a teacher and his student. But what gave it that much more *oomph* as a read, was that the author took some unexpected chances, skirting an “objectionable” line. Because while the story took place in a state where 17 was “legal”… it was barely that.
And you know me… taboo reads keep my adrenaline racing and my heart pounding with equal amounts of punishing fear and devious glee. ‘Cause I have no idea what could happen (and am delighted by all of the surprises that are thrown my way). HEA? Cliffhanger? Ghastly ending? I love expecting the unexpected! And that’s why I loved #1 so much. I simply couldn’t put it down.
“Better” continued from where #1 left off. Angst and turmoil there was a-plenty, but in a different sense (and for me, not as much of a frenzy-inducer. I was able to put it down).
Yes, Mark lost his high school teaching job when all things were said and done. And yes, Cadence’s uber-religious, super-strict family kicked her out (and physically hurt her, to boot). The bad stuff I expected to happen, did (minus jail time for Mark, due to that “legal” loophole 😉 ).
But this book focused more on the reality of what they were going to do with themselves now that they were officially (and openly) together. From social reactions (good and bad – mostly bad as many cut her out of their lives),
“I’m tired of it! I’m scared. I’m alone -”
“You’re not alone,” he interrupted.
“I am. You can’t be everything to me. Don’t you get it? I miss Avery. I miss my parents. I’m supposed to have other people in my life! I’m supposed to have parents! They’re supposed to do parent stuff with me! You know, be there and help me.”
to kicking “plans for the future” into high gear. There was no easing into this relationship and there was no “getting used to each other” before taking that next big step.
“I can’t live like this. Sh!t everywhere.”
Playing house was now, and the age difference factors in heavily. Reality has them second-guessing themselves. And each other.
I should have left her alone, he thought. She would have a relationship with her parents if I’d only left her alone. But how? How could he? He knew he was selfish. He knew he’d complicate her life. And he didn’t have the power to stop himself. No, that’s not entirely right. He didn’t want to stop himself.
The characters in this book were consistent with their “feel” in the first book. Twenty-eight year old and gorgeous “Mark”, kind of being er…. creepy in his intense desire for 17 year old, teeny-tiny cute, young looking and young-acting “Cadence”. From his perspective (in “Better”), I didn’t gather much rhyme or reason for his need and intent on seducing her other that her innocence called to him. Desperately.
“I don’t wanna mess her up,” Mark said. “I want her to make me a clean slate, too.”
He wanted her. He had to have her. And he did what he needed to do. Mind you, his secret past (and deep scars) factor into that a little. Or maybe a lot. I’m still matching things up in my head.
But Cadence’s maturity (or lack thereof) doesn’t get much better in “Better”. Understandably, a 17 or 18 year old sheltered in a strict household and lacking life experiences and more… “worldly” parents, may display a more childlike innocence and react to things differently than most teens that age. And in a way, had this been a sweet “coming of age” story, or one that explored a more emotional journey and growth, from this kind of innocence, would have been endearing.
But this wasn’t that kind of book. At least, not at first glance. I took it in as more of an unconventional, tumultuous love story, ridden in angsty-tantrumy-mind-gaming drama. And sometimes melodrama.
Okay skip this section below if you haven’t read it yet (slight spoilers below) while I analyze my “issues” with the direction the story took:
Mixing her with Mark was mostly pure angsty torture. For him… (and for me). I couldn’t believe the length of time this child (yes… child) could hold a grudge. And the ferocity with which she did it. By this book, she was 18-19 but often reminded me of a spoiled, indulged, bratty, super-young teen.
At times, I adored her (for example, when she was meeting his older friends for the first time). I felt bad for her. I understood her worries, and her need to “play grown-up”, and her need to experience life with people her age.
But after a certain point, I had to put the book down and take a break from her, and from the overly drawn-out “issue(s)” Cadence was rebelling against. I struggled with a large portion of the angst. I got it, at first. Once secrets were revealed, I understood her hurt. Over what she found out, and especially his reaction to her finding out. I got it.
But eventually (quickly)… I had enough.
Yet, despite my my exasperation with them both, what kept me reading was my curiosity in the outcome of all of this. I wondered what was SO wrong with Mark (or what was so special about her) that 1.) he wanted her so bad in the first place, but 2.) that he put up with it for as long as he did.
And while at one point I found Mark equally creepy and sweet…
“She’s just there, all the time, shining.”
… sometimes I saw them both as children. Lacking a certain maturity, over-dreaming their “perfect life”. Definitely “playing house”. But by a certain point in this book, I was hurting so bad for him. He gave and gave, and waited patiently and let her be who she needed to be (bending over backwards to fulfill her material and social needs)…
Mark rubbed his forehead. “The protective boyfriend in me wants to say something you won’t like.”
“And what’s that?”
“I wish you wouldn’t go to frat parties. They’re recipes for trouble.”
…and I just hurt for him. I just wanted him to be able to heal from whatever it was that attracted him to Cadence in the first place and find someone that would be truly good for him. It was so obvious he needed it, and I suddenly didn’t know what kind of “HEA” I was hoping for, you know? Like… suddenly, the outcome I originally hoped for, was shifting. I wanted something else.
Okay, y’all can come back, I’m finished analyzing! 😉
I liked the realistic approach the author took when it came to “them in the real world”. The social exploration of student’s reactions to her, his friend’s reactions to her, her family’s reaction to it as a whole. Her needs as a “new adult”. His needs for a mature relationship. And I liked that. Not much rosy and sweet about this love story, and I love that it went there. But it lost a certain sense of realism at a certain point and when that happened, it lost a part of me, too.
But all in all, this is a story of “we love who we love” even when it’s far from perfect. Some love stories (especially the unconventional ones) require a crash course in life and acclimation. And in those cases, we have to work a little harder, for a little longer. At times, we can’t help but sabotage, and hurt. But we try. We adjust, adapt, compromise and put up with… to keep it together, all with the hope that it will be all worth it in the end. But regardless of the outcome, we can’t help but grow in response. And maybe even become better for it.
But the questions is… is love enough? Well, when it comes to Mark and Cadence, you’ll have to read it to find out. My lips are sealed.
P.S. There is a definite exploration of religion, God, analyzing certain bible passages etc. It got a little heavy at times, but due to Cadence’s religious upbringing and devout beliefs, this was consistent to her character and her character’s growth.
P.P.S. Thank you to the author for sending me a review copy!