• Sarah Leonard

Beautiful Disaster" Book Review

Updated: Jun 25, 2019

Author: Jamie McGuire

Genre: YA Romance

Rating: 4/5 stars

Dust cover:

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.

Review:

Beautiful Disaster by Jamie McGuire: my first dive into the genre of romance. Before reading, I’ll say I was a skeptic. An avid fantasy reader, romance, in my opinion, was bound to be boring. How intriguing could a YA story about two people falling in love be? I wanted action with a touch of darkness. I’m your Hunger Games kids killing each other and annihilation kind of girl. Trust that I am completely sane, though. Leave the kid killing to the fictional worlds, please.

Well, I apologize romance community! I have read this book three times already. Although it definitely has flaws, the plot is unique while keeping with your classic, loveable bad boy/good girl concept. It has incredible dialogue and an ending to adore. I never like endings untrue to a novel (even if happy) and I usually prefer a happy one. This one checks off both. Since I’m starting out on a good note, I’ll keep that going.

Beautiful Disaster is the story of Abby Abernathy: a “good girl” from Kansas starting fresh: new college, new state, new Abby, but certainly not “good girl” Abby like the dust jacket makes her out to be, but that’s not entirely clear until later in the novel. With a past living with a drunken disgrace-of-a-dad and in a mob-invested Vegas, her secrets are well-known in Kansas (the place she lives in after Vegas with her parents). Moving to another new town where she goes to Eastern University and no one knows of her past (except her long-time BFF America who moves with her), Abby is hopeful of a new start. She doesn’t leave that poker playing, heavy-weight drinking, partying Vegas baby behind, though. Bad boy Travis Maddox, best friend of America’s boyfriend Shepley, does a great job at keeping that from happening, and she knows it. Although, she does just as good of a job avoiding him and annoying me along the way, but we’ll get into that later.

Travis Maddox—head-shaven, tatted-up, hulked-out, bad boy/playboy of Eastern University—is just like what Abby wants to leave behind. His one-night stand reputation and killer looks send girls flocking to him like pigeons to bread crumbs (you’ll get that joke later if you haven’t read the book), he owns a motorcycle (not getting stereotypical or anything here), and his fighting skills are to be feared (proven by the matches he has in what is called “the Circle”).

The novel starts out with one of these very fights between Travis, our male protagonist, and another fighter on a hidden location on Eastern’s campus. Blood and bruises litter the first chapter, even staining Abby’s cardigan (way to stay true to the jacket cover, McGuire). Right off the bat, Beautiful Disaster practically screams at me, “Romance can have action, you pessimist.”

I appreciate that Beautiful Disaster. I also appreciate the immediate relationship formed between Abby and Travis. Travis, bestowing upon Abby the nickname Pidge (short for Pigeon [get my joke now?]), starts out set on getting her on his couch; in other words, having one of his one-night stands with her. When it becomes evident she’s not into that—in other words, that she’s not fawning over him like every other girl at Eastern—he decides to befriend her.

In fact, he promises to stay only friends with her. HA! If that’s an attempt to burn out our excited little flames growing for Abby and Travis, mission failed. The incredible dialogue douses that possibility with water like a fire truck. McGuire writes the BEST dialogue! While Travis and Abby’s relationship grows, that dialogue only gets better. Time and time again, beautiful endearments and one-liners are provided: the kind of one-liners that make you just want to clutch the book to your heart when you read them; the ones that make love-haters retch. I’ll be posting my favorite lines at the bottom of this review, and trust that most of them will be pulled from dialogue. For now, let me give you a little taste:

“It wasn’t just me, and it wasn’t just him, it was what we were together that was the exception.” (252)

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“It’s over. Go home.”

His eyebrows pulled in. “You’re my home.” (296)

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“You know why I want you? I didn’t know I was lost until you found me. I didn’t know what alone was until the first night I spent without you in my bed. You’re the one thing I’ve got right. You’re what I’ve been waiting for, Pigeon.” (252)

Ugh, stop McGuire! You’re killing me. However, here I insert a negative as well: sometimes there’s too much dialogue. It gets heavy. Rarely is there ever a break for internal thought from Abby. I would have liked to know more of what is going on in her head and not just coming out of her mouth. Is she actually feeling what she’s saying? So, if you like a lot of description and very little dialogue, this is not the book for you.

Going back to the plot, Abby loses a bet with Travis, forcing her to live with him for a month. Sharing a room with her and basically spending every hour in her company, Travis begins to really like Abby, and, apparently, it’s clear to everyone except her. She even starts dating someone else—Parker—offering a multitude of opportunities to show Travis’s very apparent feelings for her through jealous encounters. Abby is completely oblivious! It’s more of denial that actual cluelessness, but it’s still really annoying. And Travis is victimized by her inability to show any possibility of romantic care for him at all. Here’s an example:

“Is that why you said those things to America? Because I said I wouldn’t date you?”

My teeth clenched. He had just insinuated that I was playing games with him. I formed the most direct answer I could think of. “No, I meant what I said. I just didn’t mean it as an insult.”

“I just said that because,” he scratched his short hair nervously, “I don’t want to ruin anything. I wouldn’t even know how to go about being who you deserve. I was just trying to get it worked out in my head.”

“Whatever that means. I have to get some sleep. I have a date tonight.” (99)

We all know what that OBVIOUSLY means, Abby. With moments like these, with the constant denial and fear keeping them apart, Abby and Travis’s relationship—although captivating to read about—drags on for a little too long. I would have liked them to have figured out what they were sooner and get together. Or, I would have at least wanted to be sparred of that back and forth, dragging-on ambiguity and fear.

The only one rational enough to try and get Abby to see Travis likes her and to stop stupid being an idiot is America. She is another pro. She’s funny, independent, not afraid to say what she feels, always puts Abby first (even over Shepley), protective, fiery, honest, realistic, and NOT naïve. If she was, Abby would be screwed. America is amazing, and she basically says everything the readers are thinking. God bless America. My home sweet home, am I right?

I know I’m trashing Abby pretty hard, but as the story goes on, some better characteristics of Abby’s come to light. She’s the only one able to keep Travis in line, she’s strong, and she looks out for herself (although that’s good and bad at times). She also has a very interesting backstory that plays as a subplot in the novel. It could almost be considered more of a main plot. I don’t want to give too much away, but not only does it give us a look into her past, but it brings an incredible tension and, really, climax to the story. McGuire does a great job at foreshadowing this subplot reveal. I’ll give you a hint: Vegas. If you reread this book, comment below what teasers/foreshadows you find. I’ll be interested to see what ones I may have missed. I also love the whole “bet” subplot. The last line of the novel makes it all the more amazing.

Then there’s Travis. Yes, he has a temper, yes, jealousy, and, yes, an overprotective nature. However, he’s also funny, sweet, and imperfect in an almost perfect way. He knows what he wants—Abby—and he fights for her. Fear of losing her is enough to break him. He’s flawed but loveable. He’s a beautiful disaster: roll credits. The one thing I don’t like about him is his violent nature. Yes, I can handle violence. I am the one who basically condoned kid killing at the beginning of this blog (I promise I don’t). However, Travis is ridiculous. He beats people up to get his anger out almost as frequently as he has sex. At times it goes a little far. He beats people bloody for reasons too trivial to rationalize.

Although these don’t really affect how likeable the novel is, I would still like to address two technicalities before closing this review. These final critiques are more for writers than readers. Some authors have a tendency to ignore rationality or character characteristics just to further the plot. In my opinion, McGuire has a case of each. First, let me address rationality:

At two points, Travis beats someone, Chris, up in the middle of the campus cafeteria for everyone to witness. Let me get this into your head…. “for everyone to witness.” Everyone sees it happen and there are no consequences. I kid you not, Travis beats him to a little pulp:

“If you didn’t sleep with her, mind if I take a shot?” Chris said, chuckling to his teammates.

My face burned with the initial embarrassment, but then America screamed in my ear, reacting to Travis jumping from his seat. He reached over the table and grabbed Chris by the throat with one hand and a fistful of T-shirt in the other. The linebacker slid across the table, and dozens of chairs grated across the floor as people stood to watch. Travis punched him repeatedly in the face, his elbow spiking high in the air before he landed each blow. The only thing Chris could do was to cover his face with his hand. (252)

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Chris curled into a ball, and then Travis kicked him in the back. Chris arched and turned, holding his hands out, allowing Travis to land several punches to his face. The blood began to flow and Travis stood up, winded.

“If you even look at her, you piece of shit, I’ll break your fuckin’ jaw!” Travis yelled. I winced when he kicked Chris in the leg one last time.

The women working in the cafeteria scampered out, shocked at the bloody mess on the floor. (206)

Wanna know what happens after both assaults? Travis walks out. No one stops him or tells an authority figure what happened. Life goes on as usual. I can’t fathom that these incidents wouldn’t be reported and Travis wouldn’t get in trouble with Eastern University. That makes no sense. I get that it keeps the plot going, but it’s not right if it’s not rational.

When it comes to character characteristics, Travis once again plays into the offense. Now, I’ll be revealing a BIG spoiler, so skip the section blocked in by asterisks if you want to avoid it.

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During the latter half of the novel, it’s discovered that Abby’s father was once a famous poker player, but then Abby “stole his luck” when she became a teenager, earning her the name “Lucky Thirteen.” Because of her success, Mick, her father, comes to her begging for her to get him out of a bad place. He owes a dangerous mobster, Benny, money. If he doesn’t get that money, he’ll have Mick killed.

To save her father, Abby goes to Vegas with Shepley, America, and Travis to earn the money through poker games. When she goes to Benny with Travis lacking the full amount, Benny sets his bodyguards on them. Travis manages to defeat his “goons,” saving their lives. Benny is incredibly impressed by Travis’s fighting skills, offering for him to fight in a tournament to earn him some money in exchange from them failing to bring the required amount. Travis agrees, and when he wins, Benny offers for him to continue fighting for him on monthly basis. Despite Abby’s disapproval, Travis agrees to that as well.

This review is more opinionated than factual. I cannot, under any circumstance, see Travis working for someone who tried to kill Abby. He’s too protective and he loves her too much. Compared to the way he reacts when other people threaten Abby, this completely goes against his character. Just like the cafeteria fights, this feels like it’s simply used to further the plot, even though it goes against Travis’s foundation as a character: his love for Abby and protective nature.

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Once again, this book has its flaws. All books do. However, it’s still a read I would definitely recommend. It’s a sweet escape for readers wanting to engorge themselves with love and beautiful, beautiful plot lines and a guide for writers on what few things not to do and what many things to do when crafting a novel.

No matter reader or writer, for all who like heavy but addictive dialogue and moments so endearing they’ll “make love-haters retch,” read Beautiful Disaster, and comment below what you thought, even if it means disagreeing with my review. I love hearing your feedback. So, I beg you, even if you’re a romance pessimist like I once was, give this book a shot. Let it be your guilty pleasure, if anything. Like Travis and Abby, let it be your exception. Until next time, Nooksters!

Favorite Lines:

It wasn’t just me, and it wasn’t just him, it was what we were together that was the exception. (252)

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“It’s over. Go home.”

His eyebrows pulled in. “You’re my home.” (296)

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“You know why I want you? I didn’t know I was lost until you found me. I didn’t know what alone was until the first night I spent without you in my bed. You’re the one thing I’ve got right. You’re what I’ve been waiting for, Pigeon.” (252)

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For reasons unknown to me, I was his exception, and as much as I had tried to fight my feelings, he was mine. (193)

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Travis Maddox wasn’t afraid to fight or defend someone he cared about or to look into the humiliated and angry eyes of a scorned woman. He could walk into a room and stare down someone twice his size, believing that no one could touch him—that he was invincible to anything that tried to make him fall.

He was afraid of nothing. Until he’d met me. (256)

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“I’m not your anything,” I snapped, glaring up at him.

His eyebrows pulled in and he stopped dancing. “You’re my everything.” (361)

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Fighting, laughing, loving, or crying, if it was with him, I was where I wanted to be. (368)

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I pounded the mattress with my fists. “You can’t tell me what to do anymore, Travis! I don’t belong to you!”

In the second it took him to turn and face me, his express had contorted into anger. He stomped toward me, planting his hands on the bed and leaning into my face.

“WELL, I BELONG TO YOU!” The veins in his neck bulged as he shouted, and I met his glare, refusing to even flinch. He looked at my lips, panting. “I belong to you,” he whispered, his anger melting as he realized how close we were. (366)

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I couldn’t hold back the smug smile that crept across my face. “You think I’m too good for you.”

He sneered at my second insult. “I cant think of a single guy I know that’s good enough for you.” (53)

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“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 on 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.” (193)

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“To douchebags!” he said, gesturing to Brad. “And to girls that break your heart,” he bowed his head to me. His eyes lost focus. “And to the absolute fucking horror of losing your best friend because you were stupid enough to fall in love with her.” (363)

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The way we couldn’t seem to stay away from each other was unexplainable, but I didn’t need explanation anymore. I didn’t even need an excuse. In that moment, I only needed him. (367)

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Feeling so at home in his arms had once terrified me, but in that moment, I was grateful that I could feel so safe after experiencing something so horrific. There was only one reason I could ever feel that way with anyone.

I belonged to him. (397)

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“The only thing I’m afraid of is a life without you, Pigeon.” (400)

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