Title: With You Always
Author: Rena Olsen
Genre: Psychological Suspense
Publisher: Putnam
Source: eARC via NetGalley
Length: 352 pages
Available: 7 August 2018

“We fell together, as bright and dramatic as the meteor falling to its fiery death above us.”

9781101982396Julia Hawthorne, fresh out of a messy break-up, is completely focused on her career. It’s fate that brings her face-to-face with charming, handsome Bryce Covington — or so he believes. What follows is an intense, predictable story that is too often only whispered about instead of dealt with, head-on.

When Julia first starts dating Bryce, things are perfect. He’s a well-connected lawyer who holds nothing back when it comes to wooing her. Expensive restaurants, surprise lunches, and he even wants her to meet his family very early on in the relationship. Still reeling in her heartbreak over her previous relationship, Julia is swept up by everything Bryce is offering her. Does it matter that, just because she didn’t answer her phone, he showed up at her office? Nope. Or, that he just happens to be at the same bar she goes to with her friends one night? It’s just a coincidence, an opportunity to tell her that he loves her.

Slowly, and without her realizing it, Julia begins to shape her life entirely around Bryce. This includes spending time with his family: the Reverend and Nancy, who adopted Bryce when he was a teenager, and head The Church of the Life.  Julia knows she needs to impress Bryce’s family, to get in good with them, but doesn’t realize until later how important their blessing actually is.

“His gaze was hypnotic, and I almost believed him, almost believed that I could deserve to live in a place like this with a man like him.”

What Olsen creates in With You Always is a story about domestic abuse wrapped up in a way that’s not ordinarily seen. Taking familiar elements of cult or religious brain-washing, and mixing them with key personality points of someone who is narcissistic, she creates a deadly environment that Julia doesn’t realize she’s in until it’s too late. The red flags are there from the beginning of the relationship, if only Julia knew to look, or trusted her sister’s judgment. Instead, she let Bryce isolate her completely.

In doing a deep read of this story, you can see Julia’s gut telling her something is wrong with this relationship right off the bat. But she mistakes this instinct as being insecure with herself: not deserving Bryce’s affection, rather than being alarmed at how fast their relationship moves, how quickly he forces her to give up her friends and family. When Julia finally understands the reality of her situation, she feels there’s no way out. Until there’s only one way out.

An important read for anyone struggling to understand the mind of abuse victims and survivors.

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