Saturday, August 11, 2012

Book Review: Beautiful Disaster by Jamie McGuire

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.

I received an ARC of this novel from the publisher and NetGalley.

I was very interested in reading Beautiful Disaster since it became one of the first self-published books to make the New York Times bestseller list and was subsequently bought by Simon and Schuster.  In addition, I knew the book had received a passionate response from readers, ranging from the rabid fans to those who felt Travis and Abby’s relationship was more “disaster” than “beautiful.”  Unfortunately, after reading it, I have to say I fall into the latter category.

The first thing that really bothered me while reading was the novel’s derogatory attitude toward women.  Aside from Abby, her best friend America, and her roommate Kara (whom Abby and America inexplicably hate and act horribly to throughout the book), all the women are portrayed as—and actually called, mostly by America—sluts/whores/bimbos/etc.  Abby and America think every girl who sleeps with Travis is trash and deserves to be treated as such; the fact that Travis is sleeping around just as much, or more, than these girls doesn’t seem to be much of an issue.  If anything, it makes him more attractive. 

As for Abby and Travis’ relationship, I’ll first say that I don’t mind reading about morally ambiguous characters or destructive relationships as long as they’re portrayed in a thoughtful, complex way.   In this book, though, the reader is supposed to be attracted to Travis and believe he’s ultimately the right man for Abby, even though he treats women like useless objects, is incredibly emotionally manipulative and needy, and at one point actually carries Abby into his apartment against her will.  He also calls her “Pigeon,” which just might be the least sexy nickname ever.  I also can’t believe he’s so cut and an almost inhumanly strong fighter, since he never works out and seems to spend most of his time drinking and lounging around on the couch or in bed.  The last ten percent of the book, when Travis becomes a larger-than-life hero and everything seems to work out perfectly, left me rolling my eyes too many times to count.

The one aspect of the novel that did intrigue me was Abby’s struggle to overcome her past and her own self-destructive tendencies.  There was a quite powerful scene early in the novel where Abby first loses control of her carefully constructed façade, when she binge drinks at her nineteenth birthday party.  If the novel had focused more on Abby’s personal development rather than the romance, I think I would have found it much more intriguing.

On the sentence level, the novel did contain some grammatical errors, formatting issues, awkward sentences, and incorrect dialogue tags, which I hope will be fixed in the final Simon and Schuster version.  Despite that, McGuire’s prose was very readable, and the pacing was strong enough to carry me through the book even though I disliked the characters.  Because of this, I would try another novel from McGuire in the future; this one, though, just wasn’t for me.


  1. Great review! I just got this book from Netgalley as well and have heard a lot of differing opinions about the story. I love how you talked about the cons, but also about some good aspects.
    Thanks for sharing your thoughts on this book! :)

  2. You're welcome! I'll be interested to hear what you think of it.