Alex's mom is dead, Alex's dad is emotinally absent, Alex's older sister is away at college, Alex's younger sister is self-absorbed and shallow. She has friends--two really close, really good forever friends, but she doesn't feel like she really belongs anywhere, or two anyone.
Enter Cole. He's athletic and popular and funny and gorgeous. And he likes Alex. She can hardly believe it--she feels like the luckiest girl in the world. So what if he doesn't like it when her male best friend hangs all over her? What guy would? And it's totally romantic when he spends hours after school at her job, waiting for her to get off. When Alex starts growing apart from her friends, well. Cole is worth it. He loves her. She needs him.
This is a ridiculously well-done book. No one ever thinks they'll stay in a relationship with someone who hurts them, physically, but people do, every day. And in this book, it's easy to understand why Alex stays with Cole. She's emotionally vulnerable when she meets him, and by the time he actually hits her, she doesn't feel like she can tell anyone, because she's already been distanced from everyone she might have gone to. And we learn just enough about Cole, about his homelife, to be able to almost understand why he does the things he does. He's not a villain, in this book--he's a character who, yes, yes, absolutely, I wanted Alex to leave. To run from as fast as she can. But I also wanted Cole to get help, to get his anger under control.
Oh, okay, well, I remember thinking that the book was starting slow, and I guess it did. But it kind of had to, and the pay-off--the emotional investment that grew during that slow beginning--was totally worth it. The book couldn't have worked without it.