Jennifer does not have high hopes for her new town or her new high school. She’s used to San Antonio, where there was always something going on. But, as she complains to her old friend Consuela, tiny Rojo, Texas is a town with nothing happening except high school football games, about which whole town seems obsessed. Then Jennifer meets hot quarterback Lance and decides football might not be so dumb after all.
But things aren’t that simple. Jennifer likes dating Lance, but she’s also enjoying study sessions with cutie Cam — except each of the boys wants her to stay away from the other. They seem to hate each other, although Jennifer’s never seen the two actually interact . . . or even seen them in the same room. And when Lance’s behavior starts to get erratic and dangerous — and two of the school’s cheerleaders are murdered — Jennifer turns to Consuela to help investigate. Meanwhile, the high school chemistry teacher is acting weird. And is it just a coincidence that the English teacher is assigning The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde?
The supernatural premise (you just might be able to guess it) is pretty well done, but the drama of this book doesn’t come from monsters. (There’s not a transformation sequence to be found.) What’s really gripping here is the surprisingly real portrayal of a relationship becoming abusive. Lance starts out being sweet to Jennifer, but shows early on that he has a temper, punching a dent in a locker when he gets frustrated during a conversation. He gets more and more volatile, calling Jennifer cruel names when he’s displeased with her, but always apologizing and even trying to buy her forgiveness with jewelry, only to blow up again later. Jennifer is sad, confused, and scared, wishing Lance would just be his better self all the time, but not wanting to break up with him because she still likes that better self so much.
The story is genuinely creepy. Two cheerleaders who we’ve briefly met are murdered offscreen, and a furious Lance poses a very real threat to Jennifer and her family. The ending, though, is hopeful and the romance that develops with Cam is sweet. The story balances and develops its subplots well. Consuela, for example, remains a very important part of Jennifer’s life even though Consuela still lives in San Antonio, and the two communicate mostly through Skype.
The artwork is clear, detailed grayscale. I find a few of the teens to look more adult than high school-aged, but on the other hand, I appreciate their realistic body types. None of the girls is model-skinny. There’s some creatively meta content, too: one scene sees Jennifer reading a manga version of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde, and she holds the book out for Lance to see the (upside-down) images. The next few pages of the book are actual upside-down panels of Jennifer’s manga volume. There’s also a page at the book’s end from the high school’s yearbook, which the poor yearbook editor has marked up to reflect various recent, um, changes to the studentry.
It’s fun to see one of the less-obvious monsters get the My Boyfriend is a Monster treatment. He Loves Me, He Loves Me Not (other possibilities listed on the title page include Double Date and Two’s Company, Three’s a Crowd) is smart and eerie and could be a fun book to pair with Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde or a more serious read to accompany a discussion about relationship abuse.