Wednesday, 29 August 2012

Beautiful Disaster by Jamie McGuire

I apologize in advance for how long this review is....
Beautiful Disaster 
by Jamie McGuire

Summary: The new Abby Abernathy is a good girl. She doesn’t drink or swear, and she has the appropriate percentage of cardigans in her wardrobe. Abby believes she has enough distance between her and the darkness of her past, but when she arrives at college with her best friend, her path to a new beginning is quickly challenged by Eastern University's Walking One-Night Stand.

Travis Maddox, lean, cut, and covered in tattoos, is exactly what Abby needs—and wants—to avoid. He spends his nights winning money in a floating fight ring, and his days as the ultimate college campus charmer. Intrigued by Abby’s resistance to his appeal, Travis tricks her into his daily life with a simple bet. If he loses, he must remain abstinent for a month. If Abby loses, she must live in Travis’s apartment for the same amount of time. Either way, Travis has no idea that he has met his match.
So there was a bit of drama surrounding this book/author, and it put me off reading it until now. I've seen some very negative reviews of it and some reviews that gush about how awesome it is. Me? I liked it, I can see where both sides are coming from.

In the beginning, I was annoyed reading it, there were things that bugged me:

The story was basically that old cliché of the promiscuous bad boy that every girl wants who changes his wicked ways for the one girl who doesn't swoon at the very sight of him and they deny their blatantly obvious feelings for a while, then when they get together, it's all rainbows and butterflies until a series of ridiculous and easily avoidable misunderstandings keeps them apart and angsty and heartbroken before the Big Happy Ending.

And of course, it uses the even more annoying cliché: she's a virgin, all the other girls are sluts/bimbos/whores who, because they dared to act on their sexual impulses, somehow deserved to be treated like crap because of that.

I get the appeal of reading a story like that - it is entertaining in a weird way and for some girls it is like reading that bad boy fantasy (you know the one: taming the bad boy, who really is a good guy deep down, he just needed to find the girl worth changing for), but I don't like how the other girls seem to be dumbed down or subtly slut shamed or made to seem like they're worth less or something.

It was a bit fanfic-ish in the way it was written - that's not my way of saying it was written badly, because it wasn't, but... just something about it. The things that happened, the things they said and did, the trying-too-hard dialogue, the character types... they reminded me of the way it feels reading fanfiction (and little things like Travis being this epic fighter who never loses, he fights against pros and guys twice his size who have trained, and fights when he's outnumbered by skilled fighters - and yet he doesn't work out, he doesn't lift weights or train and he smokes and drinks and doesn't live the healthiest lifestyle, but we're supposed to believe he never loses).

There were probably other things that irritated me in the beginning (when I say beginning, I mean the first 100 pages or so), but after a while, either they weren't so bad or I was just too caught up in the story to be annoyed by them anymore (genuinely don't know which).

The characters... I had issues with them, sure, but it didn't hate them, even when they were being frustrating or stupid or annoying or ridiculous, I still found myself rooting for them and enjoying reading about them and how messed up they are. Their relationship was far from healthy. That's the thing I see criticized most in the negative reviews: the relationship (Travis was possessive, horribly insecure, he had a horrible violent streak and although it wasn't aimed at her ever, it was still... well, boy has issues, big issues. There was definitely a weird codependency going on too.).

And I get that, I do - I get why some people don't want to read about that. But I disagree with the ones that say it supports abusive relationships or that it's romanticizing it, and I really disagree with the people that criticize people for liking the book like it makes them a bad person.

I love the book Speak by Laurie Halse Anderson, that does not mean I approve of rape. I love the book Stolen by Lucy Christopher, doesn't mean I approve of kidnapping. I love The Hunger Games, it doesn't mean I approve of kids being forced to kill other kids... Get the point? The relationship in the book is not a healthy one, but liking the book anyway doesn't mean someone approves of that kind of relationship. You can disapprove of the reality of something while still being able to read about it in fiction.

The book does make it clear that their relationship is messed up (hell, even the title implies it) - it's messed up, but they love each other (and I'm sure there's a lot of people who know how it feels to love someone they shouldn't, to love them even if logic and common sense tells them not to), and as bad as they can be together, they make each other happy and they were friends too, not just boyfriend/girlfriend, so I liked that (although, even their friendship was a bit warped).

They're worse off, and more destructive, without each other (and the abusive thing: Abby kept choosing him, choosing to be with him or get back together with him--even when she had chances to walk away--but it never came across really as her staying because of a victim mentality, it really did seem like she loved him/was happy with him/was miserable without him and, again, co-dependency was a big factor in their relationship and they seemed okay being that way. Is it healthy? No, but adults can make their own decisions), so in the book, I wanted them to end up together and work through their issues (while in reality, I'd think they're maybe better off apart - and in therapy, or together in therapy).

I don't think it romanticizes an abusive relationship the way some books do (lookin' at you, Twilight and 50 Shades of Gray) - I haven't read a positive review of the book yet where the person came out of it saying how swoon worthy Travis is, or saying they want a relationship like that... the ones I've seen acknowledge that the relationship is messed up and that that was kind of the point of the story.

A book becomes dangerous if it portrays an abusive relationship as an ideal, as something people should want - and I've seen people finish books like the ones I mentioned above and gush about how they want their own [Edward/Jacob/Christian/InsertAbusiveFictionalDouchebagsName] and that's when you should worry and get all pissy about the portrayal of a bad relationship in a book, when it's portrayed as being right.

I dunno... this is a really rambling review (and I'm ill and tired, so my thoughts may be coming out a tad more muddled and rambling than usual).

In the end, book entertained me, in the same way TV shows like Gossip Girl entertain me: it's addictive, has its trashy moments, the plot isn't the most realistic or believable, the relationships aren't the most healthy but reading about them is interesting anyway and sometimes you find yourself rooting for bad characters to get a happy ending with someone because they become a better version of themselves with that person than they are alone.

As far as I'm concerned, it's fine to like books in that way. Not every book has to be the best kind of book, sometimes you just need something a little trashy and mindlessly entertaining to read  and you don't need the best writing or the best plot or the best characters to enjoy the experience of reading it.

And I'm going off on a bit of a tangent. I want to talk about one huge annoyance I had with the book, but before I get to that, the rating: I'd rate it 3.5 stars out of 5. It hooked me, I enjoyed reading it. There's some people I definitely wouldn't recommend the book to, because I know they'd hate it or the relationship would make them mad (you probably know if you're that sort of person), but if you're one of those people who sometimes likes this kind of thing, check it out. *shrugs*

The Big (and pretty ridiculous, nitpicky) Annoyance:

Names. Abby's names.

I'm fussy with names - a bad character name can bug me for an entire book (*nods at The Host by Stephenie Meyer* Wanda/Wanderer? Really?). Now, the name Abby is fine... Abby Abernathy is a bit of a daft full name. But what annoyed me was the nickname Travis gave her.

He called her Pigeon. Sometimes Pidge.

Now... It doesn't annoy me in the way it seems to annoy other people who have read the book. No, it annoyed me for a personal reason (or at least, the personal reason made me more aware of it annoying me).

My name is Alanna. People tend to call me Lanna or Ali or Lanny. My two best friends (and a few other people)... They call me Pigeon/Pidge (I call them Roo and Batman). Have since we were about 18.

And it just irritated me beyond belief and got incredibly awkward sometimes reading a character being called that. What made it annoying was the way it was written. He called her that all the freaking time.


In a conversation, you don't say people's names often, you don't say them at the end of nearly every sentence. It's awkward if you keep saying someone's name when it's obvious who you're talking to.

Also: My friends call me by my nickname when talking to each other or to me, but they wouldn't introduce me by that name to people I've never met before or refer to me by that name to people I barely know - because it's their nickname for me not one that everyone calls me, it'd be weird to introduce me that way. It's Alanna first, nicknames come later. Travis calls her Pidge/Pigeon to everyone and it was just weird and awkward and annoying.  

And if we're having a serious discussion, they do call me Lanna sometimes too, because the silly nicknames aren't always appropriate - I could probably count on one hand the number of times he actually called her Abby and still have fingers left over.

I was probably more sensitive to all this because it's my nickname too, so it did register with me every time it was written, but yeah - it bugged me, the frequency it was used and the way it was used... it made the dialogue seem clumsy and odd at times. Maybe it was done intentionally, maybe one of his character quirks was that he liked saying her name a lot, but it was annoying. I nearly hated my nickname by the end of it (which is saying something, considering it hasn't bothered me much in all the years I've been stuck with it).

...And I'm done with my silly rant now. I'm so fussy with names and nicknames, it's ridiculous.

I'll shut up now.


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