So, Beautiful Disaster. Two years ago it seemed as if everyone was reading it, save for yours truly. Then it sort of dropped off the face of the Earth, remembered only by those who read it with shudders and curses about “that bloody book.”
Myself, I had determined to stay away from it. I’d heard enough about it in the reviews to know I wouldn’t like it, so why bother?
Until I found myself staring at a copy of said book at Goodwill. The book which only cost a dollar, none of which would go to the author. Taken by some strange, sudden urge, I grabbed it and resolved myself to read it.
Why bother reading it if I knew I was going to hate it? Because I can. Because I was curious. Because my deadline for a Bibliodaze post was coming up and I had already been toying with the idea of reading one of those new NA novels to add my opinion to the hordes. Choose whatever you like.
In any case, later that night I opened up my copy and settled in for a night of rage. What, then, are my opinions on Beautiful Disaster by Jamie McGuire?
The truth is, I could only read 130 pages of it before I had to stop. I know, I’m weak sauce. This book isn’t just offensive: It is boring. In the 130 pages I read out of 416, nothing happens except that Abby and Travis meet, they fight, then pretend like they absolutely do not want to bone each other, make up, fight again… You see where I’m going with this? I skimmed ahead and it seemed as if that cycle was going to repeat itself.
In a romance novel, you had better do your best to show me why two people find each other attractive and why they’d want to be with each other. Thirty percent into Beautiful Disaster, I didn’t know why Abby found Travis even remotely likable or attractive, and I didn’t know why Travis liked Abby. They kept telling each other (and by extension, the audience) how different or special the other was and how attractive, but their chemistry was exactly nil. Frankly Abby had more chemistry with Parker than she ever did Travis.
Added to all of that, the book read like it hadn’t been passed through any kind of editor before being traditionally published. Descriptors such as “I rolled my eyes” or “he/she smiled” were used numerous times on a single page. Details that were established earlier in a passage suddenly changed not even several paragraphs later, such as when Travis says he usually sits in the front row of a classroom and Abby notes that there are a group of girls there. On the next page, Abby says they’re behind him without any kind of description that they had moved. Odd sentences such as “America grabbed her hips” in place of a simple “she put her hands on her hips” make an appearance as well.
It was honestly one of the most surreal and frustrating reading experiences I’ve had. The use of first-person POV wasn’t constant; when Abby first sees Travis at a fight, when he notices her and says hello to her, the narrative is suspiciously lacking any of her thoughts or emotions at this critical moment. It’s all entirely focused on Travis and what he’s doing, and then America says something and we get Abby’s first action after seeing Travis: She smiles and says something completely irrelevant. Since this is a first-person POV, we should have seen what her thoughts were during this entire scenario, but we don’t.
I don’t know that I’m saying anything that hasn’t already been said before, numerous times, and in much better ways by other people, but yes, this novel does romanticize and normalize abusive relationships. Travis is emotionally abusive towards Abby. Something she does ticks him off, makes him drink and become violent and verbally abusive, and then the next morning he’s buying all her favorite foods and doing the whole “I’m sorry you made me hurt you, baby” spiel down to a T. Abby tries to call him out on his bull, but he always gives her a half hearted apology before doing it all over again.
I think it’s obvious why I decided I couldn’t handle over 400 pages of this. It’s honestly astounding to read a novel so full of misogyny and sexism. Abby and America don’t like any other women besides each other, and the narrative backs them up on it. Isn’t being that hateful towards other women tiring?
If there’s really anything good I can take away from Beautiful Disaster, it’s that it doesn’t seem to have made a place for itself in society’s pop culture. You hear about Twilight and Fifty Shades of Grey all the time, but when I mentioned Beautiful Disaster to a friend who usually keeps up with these kinds of awful books, her reaction was “Never heard of it.”
It may have been popular… for a while. But Beautiful Disaster didn’t have the staying power of any of its forerunners, and after slogging through 130 pages, I can see why. It’s dull, boring, badly written, and not at all successful as a romance novel. I don’t mean, of course, that we shouldn’t critique its insidious, vile messages and displays because it’s fading away. But if I’m honest, I do take some comfort in the fact that it’ll be forgotten entirely one day, and so will therefore not influence another young reader about what kind of relationships they should aspire to have.
What about you? What were your impressions of Beautiful Disaster — and do you think it’ll remain in the cultural consciousness like Fifty Shades of Grey and Twilight?