Robin York a.k.a. Ruthie Knox
Genre: New Adult
Sex scenes: hot
Caroline & West: (1) Deeper, (2) Harder
YA Reading Bingo Challenge 2014: A book that made you cry
Warning: intentionally crude language ahead.
Caroline Piasecki was always the good girl: a good daughter to her widower father, a good student planning to follow her father into the law and a good girlfriend of three years to her high-school boyfriend. That is, until she broke up with Nate the summer before she returned to Putnam for her sophomore year in what she thought was an amicable break-up. When her naked pictures are suddenly all over the Internet attached with her name, home town and college, Caroline’s knows her good girl status is lost forever. Instead, she’s a slut, a whore, a dirty bitch who deserves what’s coming to her. That’s what the anonymous messages all echo and what the refrain in her head drums repeatedly like a broken record: she deserved it.
Knowing that her best friend Bridget has her back, Caroline begins a one-woman campaign to erase her name and image from the Internet – to little avail. Overnight, she’s become scared to look any guy in the eye in case he’s seen her sucking Nate’s dick, scared over the now-monumental decision of what shirt to wear in the morning in case she looks like a slut asking for it, but most of all, terrified of the day that her father finds out about the pictures and the inevitable disappointment that will follow. The last person Caroline expects support from is bad-boy West Leavitt. Her neighbour in freshman year, Caroline has been under strict instructions from her father to stay well away from West, despite her fierce attraction to him. He has a reputation as a dealer and when he punches Nate allegedly over derogatory comments made against her, Caroline is horrified: she doesn’t need any more bad-press.
West makes Caro realise that she can’t try to undo what’s already been done – only accept it and work to overcome her fears. He makes her confront her true feelings and as they spend sleepless nights at the bakery where he works night shifts, time with their mutual friends Bridget and Krishna and constantly texting wishing they were in each other’s company, all the while being firmly not-friends, Caro is slowly able to come to terms with the harm that has been done to her. Against their will, both Caro and West find themselves sinking deeper into each other’s skin until ‘just friends’ is a mockery of what their relationship has become and they’re both forced to re-evaluate their feelings for each other and figure out exactly what they want – and need.
Deeper is utterly, utterly breathtaking. Under her New Adult pseudonym, Ruthie Knox snatches the words out of my mouth and I can’t find the right words to do Deeper justice. I’m not a huge fan of New Adult with the minimal interaction that I’ve had with the genre, but Deeper almost persuades me to read nothing else but New Adult for the rest of my life, so long as Ruthie Knox writes it. If that’s not a declaration of true love, then I’m not sure what is.
It took me less than two days to devour Deeper and I’m already feeling the loss like a punch in the gut. I started writing this portion of the review immediately after reading the last line, at break-neck speed at almost two in the morning so that I can get down my gut reaction and not lose it in the aftermath. After winning the coveted prize of my favourite new-author of 2013, Ruthie Knox has shown that practice clearly makes perfect. The four books that I read last year were all fantastic, but their nature as contemporary comedy romances meant that they were mostly light-hearted and a fun, fluffy read. Deeper has its funny moments, but like much of the genre, it’s dark and gritty and strikes hard at a problematic social issue in a way that squeezes at your heart and steals your breath in the process. This is the epitome of poignancy.
Romance Novels for Feminists wrote a fantastic review of the way Deeper tackles revenge porn, its feminist undertones and how Ruthie Knox simultaneously embraces and rejects certain tropes of the new adult genre. I really can’t put it any better and I don’t even want to try because I know I won’t do it the same justice. It’s a thought-provoking read and so take a look, but here are a few of my own thoughts.
Just as Blue-Eyed Devil was a touching story dealing with the realities of domestic violence, Deeper forces the reader to confront the harsh reality of revenge porn and the associated physical and psychological harm suffered by its victims. Much of the abuse Caroline receives mirrors the abuse hurled at rape victims that continue to perpetuate rape myths and prison these women in a damaging bubble of abuse from her perpetrator, the media, the criminal justice system and the judgemental society around her. Ruthie Knox tackles these issues head-on and it’s brave and refreshing. West might seem insensitive at times, but it gives Caroline a much-needed wake-up call in confronting where the blame lies. Slut-shaming paints a damning picture of women and unfortunately, it says more about society than the women it purports to blame. Caroline is a confident, logical and ambitious student aiming for a career in law until Nate’s actions destroy her self-confidence. It’s heart-rendering to read and it pains me to see that society has forced Caroline to be the one at fault. The following is one of my favourite passages where Caroline realises that being a victim doesn’t mean she’s weak or guilty of any wrongdoing and that she has the power to decide her own fate:
“It’s the strangest thing, because I’m not drunk, and I’m not traumatized, and I’m not crazy.
“I’m not a dumb cunt.
“I’m not a slut, I’m not frigid, I’m not a disappointment.
“I’m just a girl who did a shot off the train tracks, high-fiving her friends, savouring the warmth spreading down her throat and into her stomach.”
As the above extract proves, Ruthie Knox is a great storyteller. One of my lecturers once described that of Lord Denning, a notorious judge amongst law students of the common law world. Lord Denning had an endearing way of mixing up short and long sentences, creating almost a work of fiction in painting a story of the facts of a case to the reader. This is something I love about Ruthie Knox and haven’t properly appreciated until Deeper. It’s a powerful, realistic way of storytelling and in some places, is so beautiful it breaks my heart.
I’m stretching my RBC rules slightly with this one. It was initially my New Adult read on the Romance RBC list, all the way until the last page when (shocker) I cried. It takes a lot to make me cry at a book. I can tear up quite readily at a film or a television programme, but it’s a Herculean task when it comes to books. There have been great authors that have tried and failed and while some of my favourite books regularly feature as Tearjerkers on AAR’s lists devoted to the sub-genre, I’ve ploughed my way through them and come away with a dry eye. I know for a fact that there have been books that have made me cry, but it’s been so long and so far between that I can’t actually recall any of them. This category was going to take something special and for many reasons including this one, Deeper is that special book. Deeper is that one New Adult book that you must read and if you only seek out one book based on my reviews this year, make it Deeper.
I am so, so hyped for Harder. Not only because I love how dirty the titles sound, but Deeper has firmly swept away the competition and taken the number one spot in my favourite books this year as Ruthie Knox continues to blow my mind. I’ll admit to mixed feelings. Given the ending of Deeper, I need another book to glue the shattered pieces of my heart back together. But in my experience, writing as fantastic as what Ruthie Knox has crafted doesn’t grow on trees and I’m automatically wary of another book in case it doesn’t live up to my (sky-high) expectations. I’ll read it anyway but I’ve (unfortunately) learnt to deal with the reality of disappointing sequels – I just hope that Harder isn’t one of them. July can't come fast enough.
Image courtesy of Fantastic Fiction.