By Cynthia Bujnicki
For Betts and Aiden, the connection between them was instantaneous. Betts is sure she is in love, that Aiden is the man she has been waiting for all her life. Moreover, Aiden swears he has left his troubled past behind him. Except when her friends and family do not approve, their relationship is put to the test.
Always Forever Maybe is an easy to read novel dealing with complex issues. Betts is a senior in high school, eager to escape her overbearing and controlling mother. This seems to be the perfect, if not cliché, a recipe for Betts to be attracted to the motorcycle riding Aiden, a boy with a troubled past and possessive nature. In one respect it is a great novel because of how it deals with the complex nature of abuse, both emotional and physical. The story focuses a lot on Bett trying to navigate this new relationship. Her narrative is also engaging in the way to simultaneously defends Aiden’s behavior while also defending her actions. In both ways, the story challenges and taps into that idea that women in abusive relationships, women so blinded by their love and need to make the relationship work, even at the risk of their own lives, can see the wrong but work so hard to sidestep it.
Rissi worked very hard to adapt the story for a young audience, to channel the mindset of a woman trapped by their need for love in a world where they do not feel it. It makes Betts relatable, even if it frustrates the reader, but seeing into her mindset, it removes some of the frustration on the part of the reader and turns it into pity because it is something many women do go through.
While that made the novel interesting, it was all the other character dynamics that seemed to fall through the cracks. Yes, the reader knows that Aiden is not going to be the hero of the novel, but Jo’s immediate dislike of him and her attitude and the way she treats Betts is no better. Jo is as possessive and needy as Aiden is. Her attitude at their first meeting and the way she intentionally made the conversation uncomfortable for Aiden did not paint her in a good light; it only served to reinforce this idea that Betts life is full of possessive people and love for her is dependent on what she can provide other people. Then there is her mother. Not once in the entire novel is she warm and caring. Even at the end of the novel, she harshly scolds her daughter, treating her like a caged bird who finally got to peek outside the cage against her mother’s will. She is a cold, stoic character who has no warmth in her whatsoever, making her an incredibly unlikable character.
The redeeming quality of all this is Betts final thought is that she needs to put herself first before others, that she has to learn to love herself before she can be in any relationship. The fact that the book eventually leads to this ending is what makes the novel, in the end, a decent one. (★★★★☆ | B)