Tuesday, January 10, 2017

Beautiful Disaster by Jamie McGuire



I read this book for the Unapologetic Romance Readers' New Years 2017 Reading Challenge. For more info about what this is, click here.

This is not going to be one of those reviews that thoroughly breaks down the story and supports all of its main arguments with quotes. Too many people have done this already - and they've done a much better job than I could. BEAUTIFUL DISASTER is second only to FIFTY SHADES OF GREY and perhaps TWILIGHT in terms of books that have been lambasted and deconstructed to the point where most readers can easily tell you, without even glancing at a page, what the plot of the story is.

If you don't know the plot, BEAUTIFUL DISASTER is about a girl named Abby who is a freshman in college. The book starts out in an underground fighting ring on campus. Anyway, Travis, the hero, is in the ring, he pounds some other guy's blood onto Abby's cashmere sweater, their eyes lock, it's instant attraction.

The problem is, Travis doesn't believe in exclusivity. He dates a different girl every night and he's a gentleman about it, too. Literally knocking them off his lap if they annoy him, kicking them out of bed in the middle of the night, referring to the act of sex with these women as "bagging." There really is no shortage of charm in this guy. Surprisingly, Abby is fully aware that he is bad news, and disapproves of him only slightly less than the women he's sleeping with (she refers to these ladies as sluts, hos, bimbos, and STD-infested imbeciles). Since she's unwilling to go out with him, but he's unwilling to leave the picture, the two become friends. Platonic friends.

When the heating system goes out in Abby's dorms, she ends up spending a month at Travis's apartment because her BFF (America)'s boyfriend, Shepley, lives there. Also, something about a bet. Sexual tension ensues, and pretty soon, it becomes clear that staying friends is impossible because this is teh lurve.

While reading this, I kept wondering if maybe I would have liked this more if it had come out when I was in college. That was the better half of a decade ago, and we were starved for college stories. There weren't really any books in my age bracket: there was YA and adult, and crossover was rare. I can name one book that I found that actually took place in college and was geared towards young adults, and that book was Diana Peterfreund's SECRET SOCIETY GIRL. McGuire did find a demand in the market and was perfectly willing to supply it. Since she's one of the more famous examples, it's unfortunate that she didn't do a better job, because BEAUTIFUL DISASTER did have potential until it unraveled into a psychodrama of enabling behavior and emotional manipulation.

Here are my main issues with the book, and why it didn't work for me (and, I imagine, the other people who were similarly displeased).

It doesn't really represent the college experience. One of the reasons I loved Elle Kennedy's THE DEAL is because all of the characters have friends. They go out, and not just with each other. There's banter, female and male friendships, parties, homework, studying, final exams, school spirit, you name it. It felt like college. Even Jen Fredericks's Gridiron series, which I was ambivalent about, shows students doing student-like things. With the exception of Abby chugging nineteen shots on her birthday (please don't do this), and a couple outings that involve or revolve around Travis, Abby and her friends don't really do anything. BEAUTIFUL DISASTER is a college story in the same way that bad historical romances are historical; it's a wallpaper setting that just sets the stage, and that's it.

Travis is not a good boyfriend. I was alternately disturbed and bemused by Travis's character. Here you have this guy who might as well have the words "bad news" tattooed on his arms right next to those tribal tattoos. He sleeps with women to make Abby jealous. He destroys his furniture after they sleep together when he wakes up and finds Abby gone. He punches a man because he's mad at Abby. He's constantly threatening, glaring at, or actively beating up any other guy who gets too close to Abby. He shows up where he's not wanted and won't leave when asked. Right after they start going out, he gets her name tattooed on him along with another tattoo that says something like "I belong to my beloved, my beloved is mine." He tells her he's going to be her "last first kiss." He blackmails her into coming to Thanksgiving with his family because he a) didn't tell his family that they broke up and b) told them all that she would be cooking dinner. He kicks desks over when he goes to class and Abby's not there. When Abby is dancing with other men, he literally grabs them off the floor afterwards and threatens them to make them leave because it's funny. He gets mad at a security guard for making him take off his ring at the airport when they get married, because he said he would never take it off. There's a long list of these scary and intimidating behaviors, including grabbing Abby herself and pushing her way past her comfort zone and ignoring several no's. What makes it even more disturbing is that Abby is well aware of how bad these behaviors are, and alternates between being angered and charmed by him, even when she admits that he's sending up "red flags." She even attempts to get away from him several times, although her friends always sabotage her and intervene.

Her friends are not good friends. America was basically Abby's pimp. She continually thwarted Abby's attempts to leave Travis, even guilting her about it and telling Abby that Travis was in love with her so she should cut him some slack. She laughs when Travis picks her up while she's screaming and kicking and begging to be put down as she struggles to get away. Laughs. The reason she is so heck-bent on this pairing? Because she has always wanted to have her friend date one of Shepley's friends so they can all go out together. That's...only just a little creepy. Shepley is also a big enabler, and also takes part in threatening other men if they come too close to his girlfriend. He takes Travis's side in most of their arguments, too, because bros before...well. You know the saying.

Abby is not a nice person. The back of the book calls Abby a "good girl" because "she doesn't drink or swear, and she has the appropriate number of cardigans in her wardrobe." Maybe not (although, again, nineteen shots), but she doesn't treat people well. She uses Parker, the red herring love interest whose only purpose is to stir up conflict between Travis and Abby, and ditches him without a thought whenever Travis comes along. She treats her roommate, Kara, pretty badly, too, getting the poor girl drawn up in her drama and then shooting her down when she tries to give helpful advice. And the words she uses to describe the women Travis is sleeping with are pretty unpleasant, too.

There is a lot of ridiculousness. Let's not talk about the Vegas trip, the mafia bad guys, the stupid fire, the college ring fighting, the professional ring fighting, the professional gambling, Abby's "dark" past, the fact that Abby sleeps with Travis without a condom without having him get an STD test even though she knows that he's slept with most of the women in their college, and the infamous cafeteria scene where Travis starts singing an a capella rendition "I Can't Get No Satisfaction" while the football team accompanies him. It's all so silly, so random, so unrealistic. I can't figure out if it's funny or not. This book was one amnesia subplot short of being a prime-time soap opera episode.

BEAUTIFUL DISASTER didn't work for me, but I can see why other people found it fun. It's a trashy read that's good for entertainment purposes and not much else. It certainly kept me entertained on lunch breaks and since I didn't throw it out the window, it was obviously passable. Truth is, I've read so many bad romances that the bar is set pretty low by this point, and BEAUTIFUL DISASTER is better written than most "duds." In fact, up until about page 100 or so I was actually guiltily enjoying it, and I didn't actually start to skim until the last 100 pages (which is where Vegas mobsters and stupid fires come in). The inconsistencies and bizarre subplots are this book's real downfalls, I think, as is the unhealthy relationship that is idealized by all the characters in the book as being a redemptive character arc. The purpose of a relationship should not involve one "bad" person putting the onus of their redemption on the "good" person. That's not love, that's codependency.

1 to 1.5 out of 5 stars.

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