4-star,  Dark,  F/M

Untouchable by Sam Mariano

Untouchable is categorized as a dark romance. And no matter what you may think of it, it sure evokes plenty of feelings. Most of which aren’t of the fuzzy, warm variety. If I had to describe it with just a few words it would be disturbing, twisted and fascinating. But I get ahead of myself.

The story is set in a small Texas town and the main characters are seniors at the local High School. Zoey Ellis is the epitome of a good girl; she follows the rules, has good grades and is involved in church activities. Then there’s Carter Mahoney, the star quarterback, the golden boy who can do no wrong. Only he is a total bad boy, and not the sexy kind but rather bordering on sociopathy. When Zoey makes the mistake of reporting one of the High School fotball-players for groping her, she’s suddenly the pariah of the town. But even worse, she’s now on Carter’s radar. And when he decides he wants to play with her, her resistance counts for nothing at all.

The first few chapters of this read had me totally appalled. I quite literally got sick to my stomach. Frankly, I considered to just quit it. But I was also outraged. I simply had to know what would happen next. And you might say that that’s the theme of the entire book. It horrifies and shocks you to the point where it’s impossible to put down, you keep reading since you need – and expect – to eventually get to the part where Zoey gets some kind of retribution. Beacuse nobody wants the bad guy to win.

The entire story is from the viewpoint of Zoey. She is abused, used and manipulated by Carter, and amidst all that, I’m still drawn to the character that is Carter. What he does and how he acts is horrifying, yet he’s quite mesmerizing. So, that’s brilliant storytelling right there. I haven’t read anything by Sam Mariano before, but I’m thoroughly impressed by her writing. The entire narrative, the way she manages to blur the lines and suck you in. It’s really freaking talented.

However. I’m quite uncertain about the label, dark romance. Beacuse it’s hardly romantic. Well, apart from the epilogue. And there are heaps of, very valid, trigger warnings. This read is simply not for everyone. Apart from atrocious sexual assaults, something that makes this read even more distressing is the young age of everyone involved. They’re all High School students, still mostly kids.

This might be my age talking, but my guess is that people in their twenties may view this story in another light than people in, say, their forties. I’ll venture as far as to say that younger readers would probably – and disturbingly – view this read as more romantic. As an actual love story. Seeing Carter as some dream guy, only a bit darker and more manipulative. You see, not being in my twenties myself, I don’t see this as a romance at all. And that’s not prudishness talking. It’s life-experience and self-respect. But about the story, I can’t decide if it’s a fascinating description of abuse normalization, or if it’s simply a twisted story using the logic that the end justifies the means.

And of course, as a European, I have some issues with the whole untouchable football player thing. I can’t imagine any scenario taking place in Europe in which practically every adult and every kid in a town would ever favour a minor like that. Then again, I don’t see any scenario taking place in Europe where every adult in a town would even know about a specific minor. But, school sports in the US seem to be a big deal I guess.

In retrospect, I feel that the main objection I have against this story is the quick shift happening when Zoey stops fighting, so to speak. That was a super weird demarcation of Carter’s changed behaviour. From what is revealed by his personality prior to that, it’s pretty unbelievable that it would actually be a permanent change. Since he’s agreeable only when he gets his way. But that topic is basically an entire psychology thesis, so I’ll let it drop.

Either way, Untouchable is an exceptional read. Disturbing as all hell, but exceptional. The way Mariano manages to shift your sense of allegiance, how the perpetrator’s actions aren’t only justified by Zoey but by you as a reader as well. It’s fucking awesome writing. So, if you have the stomach for sick and intense, you should definitely read this one.

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I'm a Swedish book nerd reading mostly steamy English romance novels. And since there is so much good stuff out there, and so much shitty stuff too. I just want to give credit where it's due (and diss the rest).