Monday, August 20, 2012

[review] Jamie McGuire - Beautiful Disaster (Beautiful #1)

Title: Beautiful Disaster
Author: Jamie McGuire
Series: Beautiful, #1
Publisher: Atria
Format: e-ARC
Source: Netgalley
Buy from: Amazon | Barnes & Noble
Summary (via Goodreads):
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.
(This review will contain spoilers.)

Where to begin?

It's been a few days since I finished this, but I needed time to digest it. Because, gosh, this was really disturbing. I was warned; I prepared myself; I tried suspending my disbelief... and I was still horrified by what went on here.

This is another self-published success that got picked up by a major publisher, and this is being marketed as yet another Fifty Shades of Grey successor. To which I ask: why? The only similarities between the two books are that: a) they were self-published, and then bestsellers; b) the male protagonists are controlling, manipulative, and generally terrible people.

The story opens with Abby watching Travis at a fight. When he punches his opponent, blood splatters on Abby's sweater. Travis cleans her up and dubs her, "Pigeon," a nickname that persists throughout the entire story. When they meet again, Abby determines for him not to be attracted to her, and fends off his advances whenever possible. At the next fight, they place a bet: if his opponent lands a blow on him, he'll abstain from sex for an entire month. If he wins without a scratch, Abby has to live in his apartment for a month. Abby loses.

At the beginning, I was totally on board with Travis. When he was introduced as just a guy with tattoos who fights, I went "whatever"; when he offered to tutor Abby, even my heart fluttered. But then the real ugliness came out. He outright disrespects women. For example, when a girl on his lap insults Abby and her friends, he stands up, letting her fall to the floor. When he's at a bar with Abby, he's chatting with another woman and buys two drinks; when the woman takes one, he says "Uhh, not for you," and grabs it out of her hand. What's really infuriating is that, without fail, the women who aren't Abby or America are treated as stupid bimbos all vying for Travis's attention. I'm tired of this stereotype -- that men can have whoever they want, no strings attached, and get away with it, yet women are vilified for the same thing (or portrayed as weak-minded for wanting someone that much).

Then, there was his behavior towards Abby. When Abby goes back to her own dormitory after sleeping with him for the first time (which happened to be the last night of their "bet), he goes berserk and tears up his apartment, almost punching his cousin in the face. He constantly lashes out at Abby. It gets to the point where he starts beating up any guy who so much as looks at her. He goes to events that she attends, even when she's trying to get away from him. Even during periods where they're broken up, he threatens men who try to be friendly to her; at one point, he and Shepley attend a dance and drag away every man who dances with her or America. It's really horrible.

But the characters weren't my only problem with the book. I found the setting to be terribly crafted -- it was supposed to be a college environment, but it read and felt like high school. When Abby's holding hands with Travis, she's convinced that everybody's staring at them. There is a cafeteria sing-a-long. Travis disrupts classes, and there are secret "fight clubs", yet security is mysteriously absent! 

I'm trying to understand the appeal of this. I know most people like a bad boy, and there is a certain appeal to wanting two broken people to have a happy ending (which I thought Bared to You covered rather well), but by the end, what changed? Travis stopped womanizing after getting together with Abby, but his controlling behavior remained. Whenever he transgressed, Abby forgave him time and time again. Although there were times when Abby exhibited spine, there was very little compromise. The story ends with them getting married in Vegas, with Abby getting a "Mrs. Maddox" tattoo. I shudder to think of their future.

Overall: An unconvincing love story with an awful message. Is this really what publishers think women want?

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