I feel dead inside. That’s what reading this book has done to me. I. feel. dead. inside.
Earlier this year, I stumbled upon an incident—I lie, there were several—that inspired me to create such shelves as not-for-me and authors-behaving-badly and add this book with all the other books accredited to Jamie McGuire on them. This explains the first comment on this review thread.
I was angry and I rated the book poorly. Then I got over it and removed the rating, and for a while, forgot this book existed.
Ah, those were the happy days.
Then came summer and Simon & Schuster announced their massive brain fart of acquiring this novel and reprinting it. They made the choice to enhance their marketing campaign by allowing free review copies distributed through NetGalley. This was my one chance to read the novel for free and rate it in exchange for this simple tag:
In this case, the Advanced Readers Copy means the superficially edited self-published version.
I hated it. Contrary to popular belief, I didn’t want to hate it. I don’t enjoy reading bad books for fun—I don’t like tormenting myself with bad literature—but neither do I start a book expecting to find something positive or other redeemable qualities. I don’t artificially skew my perception just so I can lie about what a good book this is.
Though McGuire seems incapable of using simple he said/she said dialogue tags, there were moments, bits of dialogue, and a set up most promising that in the hands of any other talented or even a competent author could have been solid gold. It could have been the the story of two flawed people falling in love and perhaps changing for the better even if not transforming utterly normal people instead of romanticised description of abuse and misogyny. There were things Travis said or did that in any other setting and context would have been touching, sweet, deliciously heart-rending—but this was Travis and those things were anything but.
“Coupled with the alcohol in my system, when he pulled my body against his, things came to mind that were anything but friendly.”
But I didn’t just plough through the pages. I read them slowly, carefully taking notes and always thinking of what made sense and what didn’t—very little, as it turns out.
Can a story be character driven without characterisations?
Apart from Travis’ tattoos—those tattoos are mighty important since they define what he can study and what his future career going to be—not a single character in this book is given a proper, layered, characterisation. Not all characters are given physical descriptions, even Shepley, who as Travis’ cousin-slash-roommate and America’s boyfriend is prominently portrayed secondary character, is never given a physical description. To this day I don’t have a clue as to what he looks like. I know Abby and America are both blonds, I know Travis is tattooed all over and has hazel eyes, I even have a vague impression of Parker, but other than that I do not know. It’s never revealed.
What I do know is that Shepley is the lapdog enabler. He exists to be America’s boyfriend and provide a link between Travis and Abby. He exists to among others to make excuses for Travis’ behaviour. He doesn’t have any other function in this story.
America (“Alice“) is Abby’s best friend the Weathervane. Depending on the scene she’s either trying to keep Abby and Travis apart or trying to get them together. She’s always dreamt of her and Abby dating brothers or cousins, so they could become real family or something other. America exists to drive Abby around and to scold her either for resisting Travis or not resisting him enough.
Parker is the token third wheel, a secondary love interest option paper doll. He’s rich and a hardworking student, but ultimately he’s just another jerk and not a viable third corner of a triangle—and that honour he has to share with Jesse, the ex-boyfriend. Parker exists to flirt with Abby and to make Travis jealous when the mood strikes. He also exists to prompt a casual date rape scenario.
Finch is the token gay guy. He exists to provide Abby with alcohol and a shoulder to cry on whenever America is lip-locked with Shepley and too busy to notice.
Kara is the roommate who we never see. She exists to make a handful of accurate comments and remains the sole remotely likeable character in the book.
Abby giggles. She studies high school level biology in college and sucks at it. She apparently likes numbers but hardly ever talks about those classes. She has a dark, dark past that’s never talked about until it’s all that’s talked about. She likes to drink and plays a mean game of poker. All these details and I still don’t know what drives her. I don’t know what her inner passions are or how she thinks and the book is written from her perspective in the first person limited voice.
“This is hard for me, ya know. I feel like any second you’re going to figure out what a piece of shit I am and leave me. When you were dancing last night, I saw a dozen different guys watching you. You go to the bar, and I see you thank that guy for your drink. Then that douchebag on the dance floor grabs you.
“I wouldn’t have swung if I thought I could have hit you. You know that, right?”
And she lets him.
”Travis’s behavior piqued their curiosity, and I subdued a smile at being the only girl they had seen him insist on sitting with.”
”It wasn’t Parker I was trying to impress. I wasn’t in a position to be insulted when Travis accused me of playing games, after all.”
Abby’s reactions to Travis’ behaviour make no sense. She’s either blaming herself or acting irrationally and manipulating the situation to her end. She’s playing with Travis just as much he’s playing with her as evidenced by the events of the night they first sleep together. She tells him he’s a virgin, he tells her he likes it rough, they have sex—one of the few times condoms were used—and in the morning, she leaves. He trashes the house. America the worst friend who ever lived, comes to get Abby to talk Travis down. Not to make sure that Abby is safe and sound and far away from the psycho as possible, but to fetch her to the house so she can talk to Travis and calm him. So she can understand him.
The abuse, the antifeminism, the misogyny, the casual slut shaming, rape threads, girl-on-girl hate, it’s all omnipresent. You can’t avoid it.
Character driven stories rely on one essential idea: That the main character learns something. That all the pain and heartache, all the adventures that they experience within the story enrich them as a human being and make them grow as a person. Not necessarily for the better, but simply more aware. On some level the characters do need to be conscious of their actions and choices they make in the end of the book in a way they weren’t at the start of it.
In this Beautiful Disaster fails.
Travis does forsake all others but he isn’t any better taking into account Abby’s feelings in the end of the book than he is in the beginning of it. As for Abby, life is still a huge poker game she’ll bluff her way through like it was before she met Travis. Well, maybe not bluff, but she’s always had a talent of manipulating the cards in her favour.
Instead of bare boned characters who apparently learn nothing within the four hundred and twenty odd ebook pages, I could be talking about the overall plot of the book. Except, there isn’t one:
A girl goes to see a fight. A girl meets a boy. They skip time and become friends. They make a bet and end up living under the same roof. They dance around each other and a girl tries dating another guy. The boy gets jealous and they sleep together. The bet has ended and the girl leaves. Boy gets angry. Girl comes back. They fight and the girl tries to leave. The boy gets her a puppy to make her stay—
This isn’t a plot. This is a list of consecutive events describing a dysfunctional codependent relationship. Of course, we could call it a relationship drama, but we’d also have to redefine words relationship and drama. There’s no internal conflict. Nothing is addressed and nothing is learned. All obstacles are external ones and easily cast aside.
No. It’s not.
This is as mislabelled as a romance as it was mislabelled as a young adult novel. There is absolutely nothing romantic about this book. It’s the author’s ode to “Edward’s” Travis’ character. A controlling, abusive, stalker is in the centre of everything and the reader can’t escape him even when Abby is on a date with another man. The conversation always quickly returns to Travis and stays there.
This book reads like a Twilight fanfiction or work heavily inspired by Twilight.
America behaves as bipolar as Alice, and Travis is set upon a pedestal and worshipped just like Edward was. Travis shares Edward’s penchant for speeding. Travis and Abby’s first date is in a restaurant where the waiter flirts with him and he starts questioning him over the food. The biology lessons and the absent parent figures. Abby likes to bite her lip almost as much as Kristen Steward in her portrayal of Bella Swan. Parker Hayes reads like a distorted Mike Newton. etc. etc.
There isn’t any proof that I’m aware of to show that this ever was posted and labelled as a Twilight fanfiction. I’m going to have to go with the “inspired” by Twilight theory and keep my opinions to myself…
It looks like I failed too.