Summary: Cast as Ophelia in her school play, seventeen year-old Iris follows in Ophelia’s shoes when she falls for a man who is fourteen years her senior. Taken in by his attentions to her, Iris finds herself thankful that such a man would be attracted to her. What she doesn’t see at first is that the longer their relationship continues, the more isolated she becomes from her family and friends. When Mick’s uncontrollable anger turns violent, Iris takes the blame for his actions on herself, becoming smaller and smaller to avoid further outbursts. Eventually she finds herself unable to make choices without Mick, wondering if she has the strength to break free when she’s not sure she can or wants to live without him.
Number of Pages: 279
Age Range: 15-17
Review: The topic of women staying in abusive relationships is a difficult one to say the least, but Monique Polak handles it with grace and ultimately hope in “So Much It Hurts.”
I loved how Shakespeare’s play, “Hamlet,” factored into the story. Iris lives the role of Ophelia, caught up in love at the expense of her reason. Mick seems to be tortured by inner demons much like Hamlet, although they do not excuse his behaviour and lack of respect for Iris. The quotes from the play at the beginning of each chapter set the tone, and I thought Iris naming their cat William Shakespeare was a nice touch.
What I appreciate about Polak’s work is that she is drawing on her own experience. Her story isn’t comfortable or pretty, but the act of writing it and putting it out there is one of courage. It opens up the discussion without providing easy answers, because ultimately aren’t any. Instead Polak gives her reader a glimpse into Iris’s mind and experiences, fostering empathy and further understanding.
There was one main plot point that I had trouble with though, and that was the fact that Iris’s teacher Ms. Coleman had had a relationship with Mick herself and experienced first hand his abusive ways. Why then would she want to work with him at all, let alone in a school setting, introducing him to her vulnerable female students?
It’s not an easy read with the violence and disturbing nature of Iris and Mick’s relationship, but it is an important one and the story itself flows quite easily. Polak is kind by not ending the story in tragedy, offering her reader hope that Iris will move on from this experience with wisdom and support from her friends and family.
“I feel Mick watching me, and I know that making me happy makes him happy. Which makes me even happier. More than anything else, I want to make Mick happy too. I’d do anything to make him happy. I know his life isn’t easy – he has work demands, and then there’s all the trouble he still has to sort out with his ex-wife – but I know if I love him right, I can make things easier for him. This is what love is. Putting the person you love before yourself. Sometimes even forgetting yourself because the other person’s happiness matters so much to you.” – Iris from So Much It Hurts by Monique Polak, page 76
“I’ve just stepped on a land mine.
Without thinking, I raise my elbow so it covers my face.
‘What do you think I’m going to do, hit you, Iris?’
Oh no, I think. I’ve made things even worse by covering my face. Why am I such an idiot?
‘No, I don’t think that,’ I say, and I realise I am cowering too, like William Shakespeare under the bed. I don’t know what to do to get Mick to calm down. I don’t know where to go to get away from his anger. I have nowhere to go.” – conversation between Mick and Iris from So Much It Hurts by Monique Polak, page 141
“I go back and forth between the apartment and the forest. The forest floor sinks under my feet when I try to take a step forward. What if I sink too? Who’ll find me here? No one will know where I am. And no one is coming to save me. I need to save myself. But how, when I’m afraid to even take a step?” – Iris from So Much It Hurts by Monique Polak, page 149
“‘Uh-huh,’ I say again. I’m getting kind of choked up. It’s not just the thought of Mrs. Karpman bringing me dinner; it’s also what she said about my deserving only good things. Part of me thinks she’s right. Part of me isn’t so sure.” – Iris from So Much It Hurts by Monique Polak, page 201
“I swear I get shivers when Francisco says, ‘”Tis bitter cold, and I am sick at heart.”‘ I have this feeling I will never forget those words ever – that they’re becoming part of me. I think back to last week’s blowout with Mick and how I felt when I was hiding in the closet afterward. That’s it exactly. I was sick at heart. Did Shakespeare know that feeling too? He must’ve, or else he’d never have been able to write that line. I think maybe I still am sick at heart. Mick’s been gentle with me all week, and he’s been helping me around the loft – straightening things up, warming up soup for dinner – and never once raising his voice, but that sick-at-heart feeling that won’t go away.” – Iris from So Much It Hurts by Monique Polak, page 209
“The word truth hits me like a kick in the stomach. It hits me so hard I nearly give in. I nearly tell her everything. The truth. Only now, something else occurs to me: Mom hasn’t always told me the truth. She’s angry with me, but I realize I’m angry with her too – and I have a right to be. But why does it feel so scary to be angry with her? Maybe because it’s a feeling I’ve never allowed myself. Maybe I’ve never dared to be angry with her. Because I’ve needed her so much.” – Iris from So Much It Hurts by Monique Polak, page 214
“Everyone knows about women who stay in unhealthy relationships. In abusive relationships even. But they don’t get good grades in school or have families who love them. I can’t be one of those women.
Or can I?” – Iris from So Much It Hurts by Monique Polak, pages 255-256
“Tender yourself more dearly.
Sometimes a person has to be tough on herself; other times she’s got to be gentle, cut herself some slack. It depends on the situation. Sometimes being tough is the only way to tender yourself more dearly. After you’ve been tough, then you need to be gentle with yourself again.” – Iris from So Much It Hurts by Monique Polak, page 279