Gemma Belfine is aged almost seventeen. She is a promising A Level student (though not expected to hit the top rank) and a talented country singer and songwriter. She lives with her mother and father and her younger brother Michael who is a gifted footballer. The children’s father channels a great deal of time and energy into Michael’s possible career as a player. Gemma sometimes feels that she is invisible to her father.
Gemma’s interest outside the home rotates around a part-time job. She works at a café with her friend Esi, who is Ghanaian and an academically outstanding student. Gemma then meets Aaron Weaver at the sixth form college. Aaron is handsome. He treats Gemma like a princess, buying her expensive gifts and devoting every waking hour to her. But Aaron begins to monopolise Gemma, claiming all her time, texting her at 2 AM, encouraging her to quit college.
Gemma enters for a talent competition and would have had a good chance of making progress were it not for the intervention of Aaron. There is now a contest to exercise control over Gemma, a contest between Aaron on the one hand and her family and friends on the other.
The strength of this book lies in the way the author makes the reader aware, slowly but inexorably, of the coercive control Aaron seeks to exert over Gemma. Gregory also strikes a telling blow in the narrative by inserting brief passages told from the viewpoint of Aaron. These passages remind us that there are two sides to every disagreement, without ever mounting a spurious defence of Aaron’s behaviour. Readers should be aware that the book makes reference to sexual assault and pornographic images.
The major flaw in this book is also its greatest strength. In the early stages of Gemma’s relationship with Aaron, the depiction of the romance is totally idyllic. The reader recognises how much Gemma stands to lose. Some readers may find these early pages difficult to stomach and may abandon the book. If so they will miss a novel that in every other way merits their attention.