Book Review: The Places I've Cried In Public

Amelie was miserable at having to move down South—to a tiny little town, hours away from the friends and boyfriend she loved. But when her turn in the talent show drew the attention of Reese—charismatic, talented and overwhelmingly cool—he left little room in her head or heart for anything else. Looking back on their whirlwind romance, with its dizzying highs and devastating lows, Amelie is trying to untangle what was true, what was lies, and why something that felt like love made her cry so many times.

Holly Bourne is a prolific writer of young adult fiction, but this is the first book of hers that I’ve read. It’s told through two perspectives, Amelie-During and Amelie-After, as the protagonist takes a tour of (as the title suggests) the places she’s cried, for reasons almost entirely related to Reese. We’ll get back to him in a bit. Two different fonts are used to make it easy to tell where the transitions between perspectives occur, although more than just font sets them apart. While both are told through first-person narrative, in the present-day sections Amelie is addressing Reese (“I hadn’t met you yet, of course.”) and she occasionally chimes in mid-way through an Amelie-During section to comment on her choices or state of mind. The interaction between the two perspectives is interesting, helping to ratchet up the tension for some of the early interactions between Amelie and Reese, although the downside is that it removes a lot of uncertainty over how the story is going to progress. You know things are going to get miserable, the only question is exactly how bad it’s going to be.

Amelie as a main character, I had mixed feelings about. I didn’t feel like her personality shone through in the story, despite the first-person narration, and she sometimes came across more like a collection of traits (likes music, hates attention, misses the North) than a character. An integral element of the storyline is the way Amelie’s personality, her sense of self, is eroded over the course of it, and I sometimes felt like we were taking her word for that rather than seeing much evidence of it. By virtue of the fact that we start the story with Amelie having been separated from the people she’s most comfortable with, I can understand why we don’t get to see her at her best, nevertheless I thought it created a weakness in the overall arc of the story. I did like her descriptions of pre-performance stage fright, and thought the development of her friendship with Hannah was sweet. Most of the things I liked best about Amelie were in small moments and observations, which I did really enjoy despite wishing they had added up to a more compelling whole.

On to the main event then: the relationship between Amelie and Reese. The book’s set-up being what it is, we know before Reese has even made an appearance on the page that things aren’t going to end well between him and Amelie. What we don’t know is the exact reason for and trajectory of the inevitable breakdown, although we start to see some early clues that Reese isn’t a good guy and Amelie-After is quick to highlight them in case the reader might be inclined, like her earlier self, to overlook them.

By the time Amelie is recounting the details of her first date with Reese, he’s moved beyond weirdly-intense and begun exhibiting clear signs of emotional abuse, a trend which only gets worse as the story continues. Amelie-During isn’t realizing it yet, but the readers—between the commentary of Amelie-After and the reactions of some of Amelie’s new friends—are left in no doubt as to what’s going on. Which I found a little frustrating, honestly. To be clear, I think this is a really important thing to explore, and I think Bourne has done an excellent job demonstrating the ways an abuser keeps their victim stuck. Isolating them from the people who care about them, undermining their faith in their own judgement, gaslighting, emotional manipulation—she sets it all out in a way that illustrates clearly how an otherwise sane and self-respecting person can become trapped in a relationship that makes them feel crazy and worthless. My issue comes in with what I felt was a lack of subtlety, which I felt undermined a key part of the message—how insidious and hard-to-identify these patterns are when you’re actually in the middle of it.

There’s a slightly confusing lack of consistency in Amelie-After’s awareness of the abuse as well, which added to my frustration. If the present-day narration had come from a place where Amelie could reflect in full self-awareness we would have lost out on the important arc of realisation and healing that she goes on in those sections of the book, but the way she seemed to go back and forth between blaming Reese and blaming herself (while completely realistic, considering what she had been through) meant her interjections into Amelie-During’s narrative didn’t have a clear purpose. She couldn’t, a lot of the time, add much to what we were already getting from the single narrative, except a sense of context and the lasting damage the relationship did. Which was already evident from the dual timeline of the story. Essentially, I would have preferred that we sacrifice some of Amelie-After’s input and observations in favour of letting Reese’s abuse become evident through the events in Amelie-During’s narration, and the responses of those around her. Bourne’s writing does a fine job making the case for Reese’s unmitigated awfulness through each of Amelie’s perspectives, I think she could afford to be less explicit in her highlighting of it, especially early on.

In general, Bourne’s writing is very easy to read with a casual, conversational style. I have one, extraordinarily petty, nitpick regarding The Crying. I totally understand that repeated crying is kind of central to the whole narrative, and the structure of the storytelling, but it did start to get on my nerves a bit. There’s a scene where Amelie comments that she’s going to run out of ways to describe crying and, although there is a strong effort to introduce variety to the many tear-filled moments, her concern is legitimate.

I think The Places I’ve Cried In Public tells a vitally important story in a way that will be easy to access. For all that I wish some things had been done differently, I’m glad that this book exists. I think it’s the kind of book that should be compulsory reading for teenagers (with a caveat that I’ll discuss in a moment), and the kind of book that could spark vital conversations about healthy relationships and the different forms that abuse can take. I do have to issue a pretty huge content warning though; aside from the obvious portrayal of emotional abuse, there is an incident of sexual assault which, while not graphic, is very difficult to read. With that said, I don’t think this should stop it being recommended to young people, because it touches on the nuances of coercion in sexual relationships in a way that, again, opens the way for important conversations. Just something to bear in mind if you, or whoever you might recommend the book to, need a heads up for this kind of subject matter.A difficult, but ultimately hopeful story; I would particularly recommend The Places I’ve Cried In Public for fans of Sarah Dessen or Jaclyn Moriarty, both of whom have dealt with some difficult topics in their writing with care and sensitivity.

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