We were best friends once. Then Jared turned on me and made it his mission to ruin my life. I was humiliated, shut out, and gossiped about all through high school. His pranks and rumors got worse as time wore on, and I made myself sick trying to stay out of his way. I even went away for a year just to avoid him.
But I’m done hiding from him now, and there’s no way I’ll allow him to ruin another year. Jared might not have changed, but I have. It’s time to fight back…
What was it all about
Bully by Penelope Douglas was my first experience reading this sub-genre of romance – bully romance. In case you haven’t heard about this, in this genre, the guy usually keeps bullying the girl while at the backdrop of intense attraction between the two. I got the opportunity to pick up the paperback from an old thrift shop long back, but never felt the curiosity to read it until today.
Book 1 in the series, though each could be read as a standalone, I finished this in less than 4 hours. To put matters straight, I hate the fact love could be interpreted as something that began with bullying and making a girl cry for a year.
But there were extenuating circumstances, as shown by the author in this book, that made this an immersive read. The story also gave me the chance to see the heroine grow stronger with each page, liking especially the fact that she made mistakes, went overboard, became a bully herself, then corrected herself.
A high school romance, I liked how the two collided and repelled, then found their way back to each other. Sometimes, with raging hormones, it was understandable that finding a permanent path to love was difficult, especially when one had to keep up appearances.
High school was a minefield for most and what I understood from speaking to a lot of readers and people around the world. And here were two childhood best friends and neighbors, Tate and Jared, who had lost their way.
Jared went away for a summer and came back different, hating the world. All his hurt and anger were directed toward Tate, from pranking to spreading rumors about her, he made her life a living nightmare. Until she went away to Paris for a year to escape this torture and came back stronger and independent. Then she stood her ground.
There were collisions and reactions until the truth of the past was revealed, and love found a way to heal them. Nearly 60% of the book was all about their skirmishes with each other. The author did not hold back from writing about how the high school boys didn’t fail to try their dirty tricks and of course, there were the mean girls with their desperate need to prove to be the sexiest ones.
“I want to touch you.” His words were against my lips now. “I want to feel what’s mine. What’s always been mine.”
Trigger Warnings: sex video circulation and molestation
These may not be trigger warnings for most, but there are some days where I want the world to be made up of pink glitter, unicorns, and butterflies and filled with love.
I finished the book in a few short hours. It was in the way the author could create a world so compelling that I had to immerse myself in it, where I wanted Tate to win all the rounds and win over Jared. I wanted love to emerge between the two and for them to find kindness toward each other.
A YA love story, I felt there was a correct balance in some scenes, though the book could be tightened up in many places. Written nine years ago, the world was probably a different place than it is today.
Our enlightenment and growth have probably taken place at least in some of the people, where many have found a way to be kind to each other post the pandemic. So I felt this book, if written today, would have had great edited scenes and stronger characters with deeper insight into what made people tick.
I absolutely loved Tate in some scenes. She connected with me right from the first page. I could feel my heart wrenching in pain when the other kids were mean to her, especially the guys. I pumped my fists in the air when she started giving back. A year away from this rowdy bunch of high school gave her the right perspective and having seen the world, I liked that tears no longer were her usual reactions. Knee to the groin, punch on the nose, and pepper spray. Along with powerful words that drove home the barbs to Jared. What caught my heart was her relationship with her father and grandma, along with Jared’s dog, Madman.
Jared was only a sexy body with a smoldering attitude, who aspired to being mean to nearly every girl and treating them like trash, yet garnered all the respect from them. The problem was not in Jared, but in the author when she tried to give him the bad boy demeanor where he literally tortured Tate, so much that she spent her days hiding. Then around 60-70%, Jared was made to be the damaged but good guy. That didn’t wash because the first half was spent showing abuse.
Moments of vulnerability could have been added, along with showing us his good and human points. That would have made him more real, rather than giving him the hot guy demeanor all the time.
Don’t get me started on Tate’s best friend, K.C. She was an airhead, who found her boyfriend of two years cheating on her, yet took him back, even though she said she didn’t trust him. But apparently, she loved him. Then she threw some lines which said that she hated the way Jared treated Tate, but Tate was still supposed to forget all that. And of course, for some chapters, she made out with Jared. Supporting her best friend in the right way was something she probably didn’t even understand. Was high school really this shallow?
The other girls were trashy/slutty and the other boys were either trying to rape her or abuse her or molest her in the cafeteria, or they were someone that Tate made fun of in her mind even when they were being nice to her. I supposed having been tortured by the main lead, she forgot what kindness felt like.
I did care for the characters, as I wanted them to find kindness toward each other, and I hated them when they typecast themselves and others. Nonetheless, even with so many of the faults, I liked them as a whole because I could understand them.
At 16-17 years of age, I didn’t think even I had the maturity to think with kindness all the time.
Reading a bully romance after a long time, I thought the concept would completely put me off, but it didn’t. I understood that this was fiction, and such a romance in real life was not for me. Kindness was a top priority for me, the one thing I want my guy to have in my guy. Nevertheless, it was like seeing a tennis match, eagerly anticipating Tate’s return.
The two were like magnets, attracting and repelling each other. They were their own world, even when they were in school. There was something deeper between them. Even when Jared was being a complete a-hole, there was this feeling that he didn’t really hate her. The push and pull between them kept me anchored to their atmosphere, wanting to know all their secrets.
Sometimes, lust was lust. And Jared was her nostalgia for good times along with the rawness of a chiseled body, and I could understand why Tate couldn’t help being attracted to him.
The plotline was not perfect; this concept rarely was. But some shades of the characters redeemed the storyline so much that I wanted to see their happy ending.
“I was his. And he was mine. We had never been gone from each other. Both of us were shaping the other even though we didn’t realize it.”
To see a man bully a woman, whatever be his age, was always difficult to see and read. This was no different. There were times I wanted to punch all the characters, including Tate, but there were some nuances in them that touched my heart.
The setting of high school in the book was too typecast. It felt like there were only mean people in them, not a single was a decent human, including Tate. Any woman having multiple boyfriends was shamed by her for her way of dressing and her character and apparently her sexual acts, but the guys were disliked but never shamed. I ask you, why not?
The book read fast. Probably because I wanted to know if the two would find their way toward love. So there was complete silence for those four hours where all my concentration was on the book, and I found that I almost couldn’t look away from the pages. My grip on the book never slacked, nor did I think about going to work. The pitch and the momentum of the storyline worked. Even when I disliked many parts of it, I liked reading the story at super speed.
The style of writing - The Prose
The credit for my fast read was to the author. Her writing kept pulling me into their world, to know how Tate would react to each of Jared’s volley of actions or how she would find her place in this setting. I liked that she was mean in a couple of places toward Jared, but she found her sweet self in the end.
What I didn’t was the formulaic style of writing of making all characters repulsive to the point that it felt to be a high school where no one with a high intelligent or emotional quotient ever studied. A very typecast kind of writing, I would say.
If things were modulated, I would say that the author’s writing had the power to modulate and garner every reader’s attention. There was something alluring about reading her lines. Even when the voice spouted the wrong words, it was still strong.
P.S. Please don’t make virginity to be the greatest gift to the boy, especially one who slept around. Why make an issue about a tissue (hymen)?
How it made me feel - The Good
I went into the book thinking I would hate it, and I came out liking it. There were problematic areas where the words were cringeworthy, where one would barf at them, but I could feel the connection between Jared and Tate, underneath all the meanness. I too was pulled into the nostalgia of their childhood friendship and the sensitivity that Jared showed toward her when she went through her problems.
The last 40 percent had many things happening, the most being Jared to be shown in the white light, so maybe if those scenes had been extended to show he had a heart, instead of his friends uttering those lines and trying to justify his actions, the book would have rocked slightly more.
There were many things I didn’t like, but there was still something that pulled me to the book like a siren’s song.
Do I recommend this book?
That would be a tough question to answer. I liked it. But the concept was an acquired taste, so if you could remember at all times that this was fiction and not connect it with real life (almost like the fantasy genre), it was a fun read. Tate and Jared did touch my heart.
Oh my, wasn’t this a long review??
I got the paperback version of the book from a thrift shop, and this is my journey down its pages, straight from the heart. STRICTLY HONEST and UNBIASED.
If you’ve loved the bully review, buy me a cuppa to perk me up.
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I have read several of Penelope Douglas’ books, but not this one, so I had to check out your review, Shalini. I’m not a fan of bully romances, because like you said, men abusing women in any way shape or form is not romantic or even justifiable. However, Ms. Douglas does have a way of pulling you into the story from the start and it’s hard to put her books down. She has another bully romance series, Devil’s Night, that I have read. You may or may not want to check it out. 🙂 I hope you are doing well!
Woohoo how are you doing, Leslie? Will download this as soon as I access Amazon