Now here's a refreshing take on the whole teenage romance. He's a baseball star and she's a mess. He's cocky and she's from a trailer park. It's about time the traditional good girl/bad boy roles are reversed.
This is the story of a dare. I loved the way this theme echoed through the book. The title is so appropriate because the whole plot really does hinge on just that - a dare. Ryan is popular, good-looking jock from a nice family. He and his friends have a game where they dare each other to do the typical stupid high school things. But they're ball players and they take winning very seriously, so one of them losing a dare means merciless (albeit good-natured) teasing from the two others. One of the guys dares Ryan to get Beth's phone number while in a Taco Bell one night. What ensues is an interesting journey into their screwed-up lives. He thinks she's a rich girl living with her famous former NY Yankee uncle and she thinks he's the typical jock with the upper-class family (which he actually is). Neither could be more wrong.
I think the thing about this story that I liked the best (and the thing that disturbed me the most) was how realistic it was. We have Beth, who is completely deluded with a saviour complex. I wonder how many kids really are in her situation, with a deadbeat drug-addicted mom and a dad in prison. The thing that's unique about her is that this screwed up family of hers really does just dump all the responsibility for her mother into her lap. Everyone, that is, except the uncle who abandoned her to follow a career in pro baseball. After she gets arrested by covering for her mom, her uncle Scott comes in and really does rescue her from her life. Beth has been coping the way anyone in her situation would cope: she gets high, she skips school, she hangs out with gang members and she fails at life. She expects to fail at life. And who wouldn't, surrounded by a whole host of failures? Scott takes her to his big house in their small hometown, removed from the city slums where she's been living, away from her friends and her mother and her mother's abusive boyfriend. All Beth wants to do is get away from him and his snobby wife - who does he think he is, anyway? She doesn't belong in a normal high school with normal friends, she's on a mission to get her mother away from their excuse for a life.
Scott is patient but firm. What makes the relationship between he and Beth work is their history. Scott was there to take care of her when her mother was damaged, abused and married to a drug dealer. He's a father figure that protected her when she was small, and that works to his favour when he gets custody of her. He's able to remove her from her failure of a life and give her hope, something she sees as weakness. Trust is a big deal for Beth and with good reason. A child whose parents are selfish and place blame on someone so young is both unfair and irresponsible. It is appalling.
Ryan, on the other hand, is the consummate perfect boy with the image-conscious family. Everything looks good from the outside, but there are secrets and impossibly high expectations on the inside. While it could be said that he has what amount to first-world problems, he is completely relatable for many teens. The pressure to perform can be as debilitating as the expectation of worthlessness and failure.
The way these two characters come to break out of the lives in which they are stuck is encouraging and uplifting. It's a slow process, with complicated relationships and trust issues which give the characters depth and definition. The secondary characters are completely necessary to the story and give it angst without being shallow - a pretty good trick to accomplish. The relationship between Beth and Isaiah could have been trite and cliche, but McGarry is able to give it a heart-wrenching perspective. The revelations toward the end of the story are emotional and raw while remaining true to reality.
This book will literally wring out your emotions and leave you exhausted. Talk about drama!
This story is the furthest thing from a light romance. It's a romance, sure. But be prepared to be dragged through slums, backstabbing high school princesses, seriously faithful friendships and equally screwed-up families. It's a pretty girl and a swoon-worthy guy. But boy do they have issues. How McGarry pulls out a happy ending is a real feat considering the big confrontation at the end.
The book is told from two points of view. It is narrated on audio from two points of view on audio as well, by Brittany Pressley and Christopher Gebauer. Pressley's performance tends to sound like she's reading. She gives the characters good voices and has emotion true to the scenes, but I found it difficult to distinguish the character's thoughts from their actual dialogue. Gebauer, on the other hand, was wonderful. His portrayal of Ryan was just that - a portrayal. He really brought Ryan to life. It's so nice to have a true voice actor instead of just a narrator.
Katie McGarry isn't afraid to tackle some big, big issues. She does it with realism while managing to entertain us, which I find pretty amazing. I will be helping myself to her other books - but I'm going to have to prepare myself for an emotional roller coaster. Her stories are not for the faint of heart.