Holly‘s review of Beautiful Disaster by Jamie McGuire.
The new Abby Abernathy is a good girl. She doesn’t drink or swear, and she has the appropriate number of cardigans in her wardrobe. Abby believes she has enough distance from 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 wants—and needs—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.
Warning: This review contains plot spoilers.
I picked this up because I thought the premise was interesting. I sometimes enjoy reading darker novels, which is what I expected this one to be based on the blurb. This book was first self-published, then picked up by Atria books.
While I can’t deny a certain readability to the book, I found the multiple spelling, punctuation and grammatical errors and silly, over-the-top plot to be very hard to read at times. The first half of the book hooked me, but started losing me shortly into the second half.
Abby Abernathy is a student at Eastern U (a rival of State, though it’s never mentioned where these universities are located, other than the united states). She’s trying to get away from her past and has transformed herself into a good girl. She wears cardigans and does her best to keep her nose clean (something we’re told more than shown – except the part about the cardigans. I guess someone who wears a cardigan and pearls has to be a paragon?). She attends a fight in the basement of one of the buildings on campus and takes the notice of bad boy fighter Travis Maddox. Abby wants nothing to do with Travis. She knows his type and is determined to stay far, far away.
Travis is intrigued by Abby and forms an odd attachment to her. She makes it clear early on that she won’t be sleeping with him, which he seems to accept with good humor. They become friends – of a sort – and when the showers at her dorm break she and her roommate, America, who is dating Travis’ cousin and roommate, Shep, move in with Travis. Abby plans to sleep on the couch, but that’s where Travis takes all his women to have sex, so he installs her in his room instead. He also sleeps there, so they end up sharing the bed.
About the time she is ready to move back into the dorms, Travis and Abby make a bet. If she wins, he has to remain celibate for a month. If he wins, she has to move in with him for a month. Abby isn’t sure why Travis wants her to move in with him, but she loses the bet and agrees to fulfill the terms of their bargain.
In the meantime, Travis is still banging every woman in sight and Abby starts dating one of Travis’ frat brothers, Parker. Parker is studying to become a doctor and comes from a lot of money. Abby thinks this is the type of boy she should be dating, though she continues to sleep (in a platonic way) with Travis every night.
Travis has a volatile temper. His first inclination, no matter what the situation, is violence. When someone flirts with Abby, he physically attacks them. Same with someone who insults her. Or upsets him in any way. Twice he “beats the shit” out of one of his frat brothers, because he makes jokes about his and Abby’s relationship.
Both characters are extremely dysfunctional. It comes out later that Abby’s father was a professional gambler who blames her for his losing streak. She decided to go to Eastern to get away from his influence and turn her life around. Except that doesn’t make sense, because she parties, gambles and attends illegal underground fights.
Travis becomes very jealous of her relationship with Parker and very possessive of her. Abby really likes that he feels that way, but doesn’t like that she likes it. She encourages Parker even though she’s developing feelings for Travis. Eventually Parker and Abby agree to stop seeing each other until she’s fulfilled her 30 days with Travis. During the rest of that two weeks, she and Travis become closer and then she sleeps with him as a way to get him to leave her alone (that made no sense to me). She figured if she slept with him he’d lose interest like he did with all the other girls.
Unfortunately for her, that doesn’t work. She sneaks off the next morning without saying goodbye, leaving Travis alone in bed, thinking they’re now a permanent couple. Travis freaks out and destroys the apartment when he can’t get in touch with her.
America pushed past her, and stood beside my bed. “What in the hell is going on?” she yelled. Her eyes were red and puffy, and she was still in her pajamas.
I sat up. “What, Mare?”
“Travis is a fucking wreck! He won’t talk to us, he’s trashed the apartment, threw the stereo across the room . . . Shep can’t talk any sense into him!”
I rubbed my eyes with the heels of my hand and blinked.
“I don’t know.”
“Bullshit! You’re going to tell me what in the hell is going on, and you’re going to tell me now!”
Kara grabbed her shower bag and fled. She slammed the door behind her, and I frowned, afraid she would tell the resident advisor, or worse, the Dean of Students.
“Keep it down, America, Jesus,” I whispered.
She clenched her teeth. “What did you do?” I assumed he would be upset with me; I didn’t know he’d fly into a rage. “I . . . don’t know,” I swallowed.
“He took a swing at Shep when he found out we helped you leave. Abby! Please tell me!” she pleaded, her eyes glossing over.
“It’s scaring me!”
The fear in her eyes forced only the partial truth. “I just couldn’t say goodbye. You know it’s hard for me.”
“It’s something else, Abby. He’s gone fucking nuts! I heard him call your name, and then he stomped all over the apartment looking for you. He barged into Shep’s room, demanding to know where you were. Then he tried to call you. Over and over and over,” she sighed. “His face was . . . Jesus, Abby. I’ve never seen him like that.
“He ripped his sheets off the bed, and threw them away, threw his pillows away, shattered his mirror with his fist, kicked his door . . . broke it from the hinges! It was the scariest thing I’ve ever seen in my life!”
I closed my eyes, forcing the tears that pooled in my eyes down my cheeks.
America thrust her cell phone at me. “You have to call him.
You have to at least tell him you’re okay.”
“Okay, I’ll call him.”
This sets the tone for the rest of their relationship. Travis tries to get Abby back and sleeps around when he can’t. Then they end up together for awhile until. Then they break up. Travis is possessive and jealous, and always quick to use his fists. He swears he’d never hit a woman, but at one point he swings at a guy who has his arm on Abby and just narrowly misses hitting her, too.
“I’m gonna fuck up. I’m gonna fuck up a lot, Pidge, but you have to forgive me.”
“I’m going to have a huge bruise on my ass in the morning!
You hit that guy because you were pissed at me! What should that tell me? Because red flags are going up all over the place right now!”
“I’ve never hit a girl in my life,” he said, surprised at my words.
“And I’m not about to be the first one!” I said, tugging on the door. “Move, damn it!”
But Travis is also different with her. He’s considerate, doing small things for her comfort, helps her study, holds her in the night and opens up to her in a way he doesn’t with anyone else. His friends notice and tell Abby not to give up on him. Even America, her best friend, encourages her to stay with Travis, even though she’s supposed to be working as Abby’s conscience.
I can understand Travis’ appeal to Abby. He’s dark and dangerous, but seems to genuinely care of her. He even seems to change for her, no longer bringing home a new woman every night or treating the campus as his personal buffet. What girl doesn’t want to be the reason a man changes? Both Travis and Abby realize the relationship they have isn’t normal.
“I know we’re fucked up, all right? I’m impulsive and hot-tempered, and you get under my skin like no one else. You act like you hate me one minute, and then you need me the next. I never get anything right, and I don’t deserve you . . . but I fucking love you, Abby. I love you more than I’ve loved anyone or anything, ever. When you’re around, I don’t need booze or money or the fighting or the one-night stands . . . all I need is you. You’re all I think about. You’re all I dream about. You’re all I want.”
My plan to feign ignorance was an epic fail. I couldn’t pretend to be impervious when he had laid all of his cards on the table. When we met, something inside both of us had changed, and whatever that was, it made us need each other. For reasons unknown to me, I was his exception, and as much as I had tried to fight my feelings, he was mine.
Up until this point, I was enjoying the story. Yes, the characters are dysfunctional and the writing hard to take at times, but it was still compelling. Especially because Abby realized their relationship was dysfunctional.
“Do you know what codependency is, Abby? Your boyfriend is a prime example, which is creepy considering he went from having no respect for women at all to thinking he needs you to breathe.”
“Maybe he does,” I said, refusing to let her spoil my mood.
“Don’t you wonder why that is? I mean . . . he’s been through half the girls at this school. Why you?”
“He says I’m different.”
“Sure he does. But why?”
“Why do you care?” I snapped.
“It’s dangerous to need someone that much. You’re trying to save him, and he’s hoping you can. You two are a disaster.”
I smiled at the ceiling. “It doesn’t matter what or why it is. When it’s good, Kara . . . it’s beautiful.”
Then Abby’s dad enters the picture and what was turning out to be a dark character study moved into the realm of ridiculous. He’s mixed up with some mobsters and wants Abby to give him the money to pay off his debt. She only has a portion of it, so he suckers her into going to Vegas to win the rest. She has a fake ID and $11,000, so she plans to hustle the rest.
She comes up short and has to tell the bookie she needs more time. Travis beats the shit out of a couple of his goons and then agrees to fight at a professional fight that night to make up for the rest. Then, when he wins, decides to continue fighting for money. Abby protests because she knows what happens when you get involved with the mob, but Travis refuses to listen.
They break up. Then everyone tries to get them back together. Including Travis’ family, who basically guilt Abby into loving Travis. Like Travis’ father..
“You have to be patient with him.
Travis doesn’t remember much about it, but he was close to his mom, and after we lost her he was never the same. I thought he’d grow out of it, you know, with him being so young. It was hard on all of us, but Trav . . . he quit trying to love people after that. I was surprised that he brought you here. The way he acts around you, the way he looks at you . . . I knew you were somethin’ special.”
I smiled, but kept my eyes on the dishes I was scrubbing.
“Travis’ll have a hard time. He’s going to make a lot of mistakes. He grew up around a bunch of motherless boys and a lonely, grouchy old man for a father. We were all a little lost after Diane died, and I guess I didn’t help the boys cope the way I should have.
“I know it’s hard not to blame him, but you have to love him, anyway, Abby. You’re the only woman he’s loved besides his mother. I don’t know what it’ll do to him if you leave him, too.” I swallowed back the tears and nodded, unable to reply. Jim rested his hand on my shoulder and squeezed. “I’ve never seen him smile the way he does when he’s with you. I hope all my boys have an Abby one day.”
In the end Abby decides she has to be with Travis and agrees to marry him. She’s only 19 and they’ve only been together for a few months, but whatevs, they’re IN LOVE, which TRUMPS EVERYTHING, including common sense. I think this was meant to show us that Abby couldn’t deny her darker nature any more than Travis could, but that didn’t work for me. Probably because Abby hadn’t been denying her darker nature at all.
While there were some compelling parts to this novel, mainly I was fascinated and disturbed by the dysfunctional nature of the main relationship. As a character study this works quite well. As a romance? It’s a failure of epic proportions. Abusive relationships like this aren’t healthy or romantic. I find I’m bothered by the push of relationships like these in many of the novels I’ve read recently. We all remember this guy from high school. He was the one we warned our friends away from.
Abby herself was just a placeholder. We learn little about her, nor do we feel a solid connection to her. She was a “bad girl” who wanted to clean up her image and turn her life around. Yet she didn’t exhibit any “good girl” behavior, with the exception of wearing cardigans. She partied hard, flirted shamelessly with Travis, wore short skirts, etc, etc. We were told she was a good girl, but her behavior didn’t match what we were told.
She really blew hot and cold with Travis. One minute she loves him, the next she wants nothing to do with him. She kisses him and rubs on him, but swears she isn’t attracted to him. Taking into account her age, I can dismiss some of this behavior. But if I factor in her past and how she had to “grow up” before her time because of her father, not to mention the fact that she’s trying to turn her life around, I just end up disgusted with her.
That Travis is a violent sort of guy is something I could have overlooked as well. I’m not saying it’s a good quality, but I’ve seen many young, hot-headed high school boys who think throwing a punch is the answer to everything. It didn’t work because it’s also coupled with an extremely possessive and jealous nature, which pushes him past “hot-head” territory and into the “creepy I-want-to-control-you” camp.
We’re supposed to excuse his behavior because he grew up rough with 4 brothers and no mother. I don’t think that works, however, because his violent, possessive, jealous behavior doesn’t inspires sympathy. Even if I felt a twinge of sympathy for a young boy who lost his mother and whose father lost himself in a bottle, it was quickly squashed under the weight of his asinine behavior.
I finished this book with a sense of disappointment and frustration. I realize the characters are young, but I didn’t find anything about their relationship sexy or romantic.
2.5 out of 5
From what I understand, there will be a follow up to this book called Walking Disaster, which is the story retold from Travis’ point of view. I’m sort of morbidly fascinated by the idea of it, but I’m not sure I’ll actually be able to read it.
This book is available from Atria Books. You can buy it here or here in e-format.