Published April 26, 2022
About Arden Grey
Sixteen-year-old Arden Grey is struggling. Her mother has left their family, her father and her younger brother won’t talk about it, and a classmate, Tanner, keeps harassing her about her sexuality—which isn’t even public. (She knows she likes girls romantically, but she thinks she might be asexual.) At least she’s got her love of film photography and her best and only friend, Jamie, to help her cope.
Then Jamie, who is trans, starts dating Caroline, and suddenly he isn’t so reliable. Arden’s insecurity about their friendship grows. She starts to wonder if she’s jealous or if Jamie’s relationship with Caroline is somehow unhealthy—and it makes her reconsider how much of her relationship with her absent mom wasn’t okay, too.
This was kind of a last-minute pick for me, but ARDEN GREY seemed like a book that I didn’t want to miss. I’ve read a few other books with photographer narrators– TELL ME EVERYTHING by Sarah Enni and BREATHING UNDERWATER by Sarah Allen are the two I remember off the top of my head– and I’ve enjoyed all of them. And complex family relationships are another pretty sure-fire win for me in a book.
I guess all that to say that I had pretty high expectations when I went into Arden Grey, and the author absolutely delivered on them. Arden’s shyness and small social circle, her struggle to connect with others, definitely resonated with me. I felt like she was on a clear emotional journey, and I wanted to be there for every minute of it.
As she finds new friends and the confidence to share her photography with others, she’s also grieving a lot of changes in her family and personal life. Her relationship with Jamie really struck me. Knowing someone you love is in a bad situation, but won’t leave it is truly heartbreaking, and the pages of ARDEN GREY really capture both the grief over the loss of friendship, the fears and worries that something is deeply wrong, and the helplessness that comes from being a bystander that’s shut out for trying to speak the truth.
Arden also faces huge changes in her family. Her parents have separated, and her brother isn’t doing well. She can’t figure out how to reconnect with him or her dad. Then Arden’s brother opens up to her, breaking open a family secret and asking Arden to accept it. Arden reels. She struggles. She grieves even more. But she also learns. Listens. Tries new things. Tries to find ways to heal. She’s a hero. I love her.
Most of the abusive relationships or situations happen off-scene or are briefly recounted in memory. I think this helps keep the story from centering on an abuser. It also means we must trust Arden, her brother, and Jamie for their descriptions of what happened and how it made them feel. This resonated with me, too, because that’s very often the position friends or family members are in, where we’re trying to understand what happened and what it means.
On the whole, yeah, I loved this book for its deep, wrenching emotional journey through difficult relationships and facing abuse. The author shares some great resources in a note at the back of the book, which I will post here, too.
I’d never heard of this, but when Arden’s brother brings it up as something he learned about in health class, I searched online to see if it was a real thing– and it is! I wish I’d known about this a lot sooner than now, but I will definitely be sharing it with others. Basically, it’s a graphic that describes different behaviors and how they fit into a cycle of abuse.
What is a Healthy Relationship? – from the Domestic Violence Hotline website
Recommended for Ages 12 up.
Arden is asexual and a lesbian. Jamie is a trans boy. Vanessa, a minor character, is Latina. Marc, another minor character, is also asexual and Black.
Profanity/Crude Language Content
Extreme profanity used somewhat frequently.
Kissing between a boy and girl. Reference to sex between Jamie and his girlfriend. Arden holds hands with someone.
Violent Content – Content warning for abuse and mentions of self-harm.
Arden hears her mother slap her brother.
Arden begins to recognize signs of abuse in her relationship with her (now absent) mom and in Jamie’s relationship with his girlfriend. Most of the abusive behavior happens off-scene and is either summarized or reported on later. One person uses self-harm and threats of self-harm to try to control another’s behavior.
Arden’s younger brother comes home late and drunk several times. Arden drinks a beer with her friends at a party.
Note: This post contains affiliate links, which do not cost you anything to use, but which help support this blog. I received a free copy of this book in exchange for my honest review.