________________ CM . . . . Volume XX Number 4. . . .September 27, 2013


So Much It Hurts.

Monique Polak.
Victoria, BC: Orca, 2013.
279 pp., trade pbk, pdf & epub, $12.95 (pbk.).
ISBN 978-1-4598-0136-3 (pbk.), ISBN 978-1-4598-0137-0 (pdf), ISBN 978-1-4598-0138-7 (epub).

Grades 10-12 / Ages 15-17.

Review by Sarah Clark.

*** /4

Reviewed from Advance Reading Copy.



“Mick…” I reach out across the narrow table for Mick’s hand. This isn’t easy for me, but I need to be able to tell Mick how I feel and what I want. “Would you come with me to Katie’s party?” I ask in a small voice. “Please.” No pouting this time.

Mick gets up from the stool he’s been sitting on. The more time we spend together, the better I’m getting at reading his moods. It’s another sign of how close we are. Now I can see the weather on his face has changed, gone stormy. “Iris!” he says so loudly that even if Mrs. Karpman hasn’t put in her hearing aids she will hear him, “What’s wrong with you?”

I don’t know what to answer when he asks me that. “There’s nothing wrong with me,” I start to tell him – but as soon as I say it, I know it’s not true. It was stupid of me to ask him to come. I know how important it is to Mick that we keep our relationship a secret. “It’s just…just…well…Katie’s been my best friend since second grade. Couldn’t we just drop by? We could say we ran into each other on the str –”

“No!” Mick’s eyes are flashing in a way I’m not used to. In a way that makes me nervous. Instead of being quiet, which would probably be smarter right now, I keep talking. I can’t help it. “I mean…we are together…aren’t we?”

I don’t know why Mick is getting so angry. I reach for his shoulder, thinking that this will calm him down, but it doesn’t. It makes things worse. Mick shrugs me away. For some reason, I notice his nostrils. They are flaring like a horse’s. Then, out of nowhere, Mick extends his forearm and punches the wall between the kitchen nook and the window.

I shudder. If I’d been standing just a few inches closer, he’d have hit me.


In addition to balancing a part-time job and maintaining her status as an honor roll student, Iris, an aspiring actress, always finds time to focus on her greatest passion, the theatre. After being cast in the role of Ophelia in her high school’s adaptation of Hamlet, it’s not long before Iris finds herself captivated by Aussie director Mick, 14 years her senior, who has agreed to help with the production. Falling victim to Mick’s aggressive flirtations, Iris is soon smitten. Though their bond quickly moves beyond that of teacher and student, at Mick’s persistence, Iris is persuaded to keep things under wraps, going to any means necessary in order to hide the truth.

     At first, the lies come easily, but it’s not long before life gets more complicated as Iris realizes that their new relationship is only one of many secrets Mick has been harboring. Despite new revelations regarding Mick’s character, Iris remains blinded by love, sacrificing her friends, family and even her job, all at the expense of holding on to her secret boyfriend. There is no doubt Iris is a good actress, but just how long can she continue to deceive those around her before the truth comes out?

     So Much It Hurts is Monique Polak’s fourteenth novel for young adults. Her narrative voice for Iris is insightful and true to life, employing a tone that accurately captures the confusion, naïveté, and ambitions of your average teenage girl. The plot moves along at an appropriate pace, its gradual development giving the reader time to warm up to Iris and to build a connection with her and her experiences in a natural, fluid way. Additionally, it would have been nice to see a stronger bond established between Iris and Mrs. Karpman’s grandson as the relationship between Iris and Mrs. Karpman, herself, was very sweet, and made for one of the most endearing portions of the novel.

     Though I found it almost uncomfortable to put myself in the shoes of a girl so invested in someone so harmful to her own well-being, perhaps this lack of comfort is exactly what Polak aspires to glean from her readers – for them to identify Iris’ relationship as toxic, and to be conscious of avoiding similar situations themselves. In addition, due to the occasionally strong language and depictions of intimacy between Mick and Iris, I would deem this novel to be an acceptable choice for a more mature audience. Overall, So Much It Hurts provides an interesting story and valuable lesson for all young adults, cautioning readers to remain informed regarding the dangers of abusive relationships.


Sarah Clark is a liaison librarian at the University of Manitoba in Winnipeg, MB.

To comment on this title or this review, send mail to cm@umanitoba.ca.

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