Score: 91/100 (9.1 out of 10)
Pounding Bass by Kenna Campbell combines elements of romance, drama, and a bit of musical fiction. This is a rather intriguing tale exploring various aspects and perspectives of a toxic and abusive relationship.
The issue of toxic & abusive relationships is at the center of this novel. This is exemplified in the relationship between the main protagonist, Bex (Rebecca), and her boyfriend Garrett.
A mild trigger warning may be in order, although this is incredibly tame granted the content we've seen and read in other works. This book is never gory, grotesque, or overly violent. Rather, it seems more concerned with the SUBTLE things: the red flags—the warning signs of this type of relationship. In that sense, this book serves a very important educational function. Evil and abuse come in a lot of shapes and forms. They're not always obvious or clearly identifiable by the naked eyes. Sometimes, they're sandwiched between things that are good or apparently good like some laughter, a smile, or even good intentions.
The author of this book does a great job at showing that.
The most interesting thing about this book is that you actually get the perspective of the abuser, Garrett, at times. You get into the psyche of this villain and start to realize that there's another side to all this. Maybe you're an abuser or potential abuser who can see yourself in Garrett and course-correct. Garrett almost sees himself like a guardian or parent to Bex. He thinks he's somehow saving or protecting her from the “bad influence” of her outgoing, individualistic, free-spirited band friends. This comes across, at the very least, as overprotective and possessive. At the very worse, it's toxic and abusive.
What's kind of interesting is that Garrett will catch himself and express “feeling bad” but then find ways to justify his negative feelings and actions anyway. For example, he tells himself that Bex should feel bad about the way she acts. He tells himself that Bex should be a certain way—domesticated and tamed—for her own good. It's sick and twisted, but there are loads of people who feel this way, if not about their partners, then for their children, students, or employees. Human beings love to command and control. They generally don't like chaos and anarchy. Those things are scary, unfamiliar, unpredictable, and dangerous. However, the instinctual desire to command and control leads to unsavory things such as the fear of letting go, the fear of losing, anxieties about whether or not your partner is cheating on you, flirting with other people, or lying. But no matter how you slice it or dice it, no one BELONGS to you. You don't OWN anyone. Slavery is illegal and wrong, and it should've always been illegal and wrong. What's more: people aren't happy being controlled. It's difficult to be truly happy and to truly feel love when you're forced to try to be “in love” or “happy.”
Garrett isn't just a mustache-twirling villain (although he seems to be a lot of times), he's human. He loves mixed martial arts and lifting weights. However, he displaces his own insecurities and hurts Bex in the process. For example, he says horrible things about Bex's weight and tells her that him leaving her to walk home was good for her health. It's terrifying that he still tries to justify his terrible actions this way.
On the other side of things, Bex is the victim of this abuse. You can likewise read her rationale for staying in the relationship and being ok with the abuse. She reflects on old, happier times with Garrett in high school. She says things like she owes it to him or that she feels bad or that she can help him. She worries about his well being at times, even when he's at his most terrible. For example, she doesn't want her band mates to hurt him. She seems to have some kind of Stockholm syndrome, and this is quite common in victims.
You also get the perspective of others in the victim's life including her parents, band mates, and members of the band that she opened for. Tate, for instance, is among the first to notice the red flags of the relationship between Bex and Garrett. Tate sees that Bex may be in danger. Rather than brushing it off as “couples stuff” or turning a blind eye, Tate actually does something about it. She brings it up to others and reaches out to Bex about it. These are the things you should do when you're concerned about someone. We're huge supporters of the Lauren McCluskey Foundation, and the premise behind that is to encourage hearing and helping victims (and potential victims) of abuse. So, this is right up our alley.
Along with Tate, Zander (Alexander) serves as a great friend who looks out for Bex. As you'd expect, he quickly develops as Bex's love interest and serves as a foil to Garrett.
As much as we liked Zander as a person, there was something about their relationship or chemistry that seemed stunted or off. For one, Zander is too perfect. He's the perfect gentleman—a white knight in shining armor who can do no wrong. It's kinda difficult to believe compared to the rest of the story and its characters.
Likewise, the relationship between Zander and Bex seems very rushed. The attraction is almost instantaneous, and the only real bump in the road is Garrett himself. So, basically if the knight slays the dragon, he gets to marry the princess. It really seems that straightforward.
At the same time, Zander and his arc with Bex are passable, likable, and accomplish what they need to accomplish.
A more interesting arc (and perspective) is that of Bex's parents. Bex's parents, despite claiming to be protective of their daughter, are essentially putting her in a dangerous situation by endorsing her relationship with Garrett. They do this with the best of intentions, but it's terrible nonetheless. They seem to like the stability that Garrett provides and the fact that they're familiar with him.
It's difficult to leave behind what's familiar to you, but sometimes it's for the best. No one deserves to be a prisoner in their own home or to be treated like someone's property. No one should feel forced to be in a relationship in which they feel scared, threatened, or uncomfortable.
Abuse isn't just physical, it can also be verbal, psychological, and mental. So, it's fitting that Bex getting over him is called a “surgery of the spirit.”
The author does a good job at letting us feel the strain, fear, and frustration that Bex feels. For example, they describe the “Garrett's intrusive heaviness” and the fact that Bex no longer wants to feel “domesticated.”
Check this out on Amazon!
P.S. There's a “Prison Break” reference in here that we absolutely loved!