BOOK REVIEW: SUFFER LOVE by Ashley Herring Blake

I received an ARC of this book from NetGalley in exchange for my honest review.

I didn’t know much about this book from NetGalley’s description. The description is incredibly short, and only indicates that it’s a YA romance where “a teenage girl falls for the wrong guy.” I’ll admit that I get easily burnt out on YA romances, but for whatever reason, this one spoke to me. Maybe it was the cover, maybe it was the fact that the description gave me so little to go on. But I requested the title, took a chance, and read Sam and Hadley’s story.

I’m incredibly glad I did.

Hadley’s family is falling apart in the midst of the fallout from her father’s year-long affair. They’ve moved around, trying to find some semblance of anything they can call “normal,” and failing fairly spectacularly. Hadley tries to find stability in losing herself in sex, earning herself an awful (and mostly true) reputation–and she wants nothing more for none of it to matter to her. She just wants to be gone, in that way that many of us have felt when we want exactly the opposite.

And then she meets Sam Bennett, and though she can’t tell you why, this boy is different. He feels right to her. And that more than anything throws her off-guard. but Sam has his own secrets, and if he says too much, it all might be over between him and Hadley before it even begins.

This is a very solid 4-star rating book for me for about 90% of the time. Dual POV gives us the necessary clues (though I didn’t catch all of them as quickly as I might have liked) to follow what’s going on, and we get to see both sides of a story that no one else has the full picture on. The plot is predictable, but not boringly so–once you know Sam’s “secret,” the rest of the plot is fairly obvious. But like other enjoyably predictable books, you have to keep turning pages because you want to know exactly how this one will pan out.

And then the last few chapters of the book come, and I got my heart blown right out of my chest.

What was at first a fun and touching little YA star-crossed-love story becomes a heart-wrenching tale of broken families, mending hearts, and learning to move on even when you think you can’t. I won’t lie and say that I wasn’t in tears a few times by the end. Maybe it’s because I’ve always been very close to my parents, and some of the final child-and-parent scenes (like Hadley’s) struck very close to home for me. Maybe it’s because I’m a sap. Who knows. Point is that it takes a lot for me to cry at a book, and this one had me needing to stop reading because my eyes were blurring too much.

This is the second debut novel lately that’s taken me completely by surprise. Blake has a fantastic grip on the voices of these characters, and a perfect understanding of the cruelty both of peers and of fate. I never felt like anything was played up for the sake of the plot, nor anything inserted just for the fun of it. Blake also did something I love to see in books: all of her sideline characters prove to be very plot-essential, or at least plot-helpful. Sam’s best friend Ajay, Hadley’s best friend Kat, and especially Sam’s little sister Livy all play their part in making the end punch, and make what would have been a decent ending a truly remarkable one.

(Honest to god. Livy. Talk about word play that hides intention. Holy cow.)

A small side note: I also love that where the book gets its title from isn’t bashed in on our heads right at the beginning. It’s slipped into the pages about 2/3rds of the way through: a line from Much Ado About Nothing, which is a perfect play to walk alongside this story. Not that you need to know the play to follow the book, but I think it gives a nice background note to the whole thing.

All in all, a truly fantastic debut for Ashley Herring Blake. I’ll be very excited to see anything else she writes, and I hope all the best for this book.

Rating: ***** (Highest Recommendation)

SUFFER LOVE hits shelves May 3rd, 2016.


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