Review: Stronger Than You Know by Jolene Perry

Book Title: Stronger Than You Know
Author: Jolene Perry
Published Date: September 1st, 2014
Publisher: Albert Whitman Teen
Genre: YA Contemporary
Book Link: Goodreads
Purchase Links: AmazonThe Book Depository
Synopsis from Goodreads:
After police intervention, fifteen-year-old Joy has finally escaped the trailer where she once lived with her mother and survived years of confinement and abuse. Now living with her aunt, uncle, and cousins in a comfortable house, she’s sure she’ll never belong. Wracked by panic attacks, afraid to talk to anyone at her new school, Joy’s got a whole list of reasons why she’s crazy. With immense courage, Joy finds friends and grows closer to her new family. But just when hope is taking hold, she learns she must testify in her mother’s trial. Can she face her old life without losing her way in the new one? Will she ever truly belong in a world that seems too normal to be real?

Disclaimer: I received this book from Albert Whitman Teen via NetGalley in exchange for my honest review.
Oh my goodness, this book shattered my heart and broke my feels. At the end of 2013, I read Perry’s previous book The Summer I Found You and while it was good overall, nothing could have prepared me for what this book would hold. I remember reading the synopsis on NetGalley and really wanting this book. I clicked the request button and crossed my fingers and toes. I was super excited to get approved for it and I couldn’t wait to be able to dive in.
Well, it was about 8 days ago that I finally sat down to read this book, and I read it cover to cover in one sitting. It was very different from The Summer I Found You, and actually it reminded me of some of my other favorite books, namely If You Find Me by Emily Murdoch and Fault Line and Bleed Like Me, both written by Christa Desir. All three of these aforementioned books are very dark contemporaries, and they are also ones that I really enjoyed and even loved.
When we first meet Joy, she’s settling into a “new normal” She’s now living with her aunt, uncle and two cousins. She’s still very quiet, prefers to be alone in her room. Family dinners are uncomfortable for her and her uncle Rob scares her. Soft voices are used around her so she’s not startled. She shies away from being touched and the smell of beer and cigarettes makes her nauseated and takes her back to the life she had with her mother…and those men. All of those men who hurt her. Especially Richard, the scariest one of them all.
I loved watching Joy’s journey. It’s was both beautiful and heartbreaking. So many times I wanted to reach through the Kindle and hug her. Her therapist, Lydia set these goals for her and at first Joy struggles to meet even one of them, but as she gets more comfortable, she slowly opens up a bit more. Even if it’s just to tell a lie to the incredibly cute Justin.She’s supposed to talk to at least one person at school, at first.
Her next assignment is to talk to her uncle Rob. Logically, she knows her uncle wouldn’t hurt her, but her body doesn’t realize that yet. So her anxiety manifests in strange ways, shaking being the number one way. When she first opened up to her uncle Rob, I full on sobbed. I could tell that this was a big deal for her and I was so incredibly proud of her for doing this.
“Everyone has a different normal, Joy.” -Uncle Rob-
As much as I loved Joy as a character, I loved her aunt Nicole almost as much. It was so clear to me that she blamed herself for not getting Joy out of there sooner and it killed me to see this sweet woman blaming herself. Nicole starts attending therapy with Joy’s therapist as well, which felt like a betrayal to Joy, until Nicole explains things.
“I was here for me. Because I feel like I should have rescued you a long time ago.” -Aunt Nicole-

Nicole carries a lot of guilt for not being there for Joy when she was younger. A conversation from when Joy was 8 years old still plays in Nicole’s head and she wishes she had done something more about it. I hated seeing her beat herself up about it. I wanted to hug Nicole hard.

Family has never really meant anything to Joy. She’s been abused, mistreated, malnourished her entire life, so she doesn’t really understand what it means to have a good family that loves you and protects you. Rob and Nicole give her that sense of security that she has never had before. They make her feel like she’s part of a family.

“I’m so heavy.” -Joy-
“Then you lean on us for a while. Let us carry you, Joy, until you’re not heavy anymore. That’s what family is.” -Uncle Rob-

There’s no way I could end this review without talking about Justin. YES, finally a boy who respects girls, who doesn’t push them for more when they aren’t ready and who’s willing to be friends for as long as necessary before it turns into anything more. I loved Justin for everything he did for Joy. He didn’t push her for a relationship. He respected her space, didn’t force anything, and probably most important, he didn’t run away when he learned of her harrowing childhood. He was the perfect guy to help Joy realize that, yes, there are still good guys her age out there who wouldn’t be pushing for more when they were just in a car together.
This book was amazing, absolutely beautiful, heartbreaking and awesome. I adored this book and I cannot wait to see what Perry writes next. 5 stars to this story about what it truly means to be a family, to love and to begin to heal.