I received a copy of this book on NetGalley from the publisher.
I loved Karen Gregory’s first book, and have the second waiting on my shelf forlornly, begging me to pick it up. I requested this from NetGalley automatically when I saw the author’s name, and was delighted when I was approved.
The tense, tender must-read book of the summer – perfect for fans of Louise O’Neill and Sara Barnard
‘You make me feel like there’s something good in the world I can hold on to,’ Aaron says. He kisses me again, draws me so close it’s almost hard to breathe. ‘I love you, Gem. And I promise I’ll hold your heart forever.’
When Gemma meets Aaron, she feels truly seen for the first time. Their love story is the intense kind. The written-in-the-stars, excluding-all-others kind. The kind you write songs about.
But little by little their relationship takes over Gemma’s life. What happens when being seen becomes being watched, and care becomes control?
Told in both Gemma’s and Aaron’s words, this is a raw, moving exploration of gaslighting in teenage relationships that skewers our ideas of what love looks like.
I Hold Your Heart is a thoughtful and nuanced portrait of a relationship which becomes very intense very fast, told largely from the perspective of Gemma, but with occasional interjections from Aaron. Aaron lovebombs Gemma, telling her she’s perfect, she’s the greatest girl he’s ever known, they were meant to be together. Gemma, for her part, is constantly surprised and delighted by how much she has in common with Aaron, how easy he is to talk to, and how much he understands her. Their relationship develops quickly, and gets to a point of intensity where Gemma’s friends are warning her to step back. Gemma is stuck in a mire of gaslighting and emotional abuse, and doesn’t know where to turn when things start to go wrong. Having dived headfirst into this intense, emotionally bruising relationship, she quickly ends up relying entirely on Aaron, and when things don’t seem as perfect as they were in the beginning, she’s not sure where to go from there.
I really loved this story of Gemma and Aaron’s relationship because of the nuance and depth it gave to the story. Gemma is a typical teenage girl, and jumps at the idea that someone would love her so intensely, but doesn’t realise how quickly her position can deteriorate until she’s relying on Aaron completely. Aaron, for his part, seems to have good intentions, and wants his relationship with Gemma to succeed, but through his chapters it becomes eminently clear that he views Gemma as an accessory to his happiness, rather than a thinking, feeling human being in her own right. He takes advantage of her insecurity in her position in her family, but not with an initially malicious approach – he just wants Gemma to be the perfect girl for him, and convinces her that he’s the perfect man for her. This is part of what makes Gemma’s anguish in the latter parts of the book so very real – she doesn’t realise that she’s been gaslit by Aaron, and the sensation of the ground shifting under her feet is all the more jarring because she thought she was in the most perfect relationship. It’s only from an outsider’s perspective, as the reader, that we can see the red flags were there from the beginning.
The cast of characters which quickly slide into the background of Gemma’s life never feel two-dimensional or thin, and their reactions to her relationship feel very real throughout the novel. Gemma’s tense relationship with her parents and growing distance from her friends only serves to plunge her deeper into her world for two – Aaron and Gemma against the rest of them – and this isolation only deepens that control.
What I will really take away from this book is how real the emotions in it felt. I could see exactly how and why Gemma ended up in the vulnerable position she occupies throughout the latter parts of the book, and the dangerous harm which happens to her because Aaron ‘loves her too much’.
Reading this book as an adult, I can see the dangerous signs of Aaron’s possessive, controlling nature, made all the more clear by his chapter perspectives. But thinking back to when I was a teen, that kind of consuming need to be together could easily have taken me over, and the vulnerability inherent in Gemma is so very real.
Karen Gregory’s first book, Countless, has stayed with me for a long time because of how real her characters and their reactions were, and I Hold Your Heart is likely to do the same. Certainly worth a read, this heartbreaking, eye-opening relationship is like the barbed wire depicted on the cover – encircling, protecting, but also preventing escape. Much like the impact of abuse, this book will linger with me a long time.