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 love dark books and ones with messed up characters, so Beautiful Disaster was right up my alley. Abby and Travis are one of those couples that are pulled to each other, and even have some great moments, yet they also are just not good for each other. And while yeah, these kind of relationships are definitely unhealthy, they fascinate me to read about them. And it started out great, captivating in an inexplicable way, but I admit, the second half of this one left me wanting.
Abby is not so much a formerly bad girl trying to go good, as she is a girl who is trying to escape a bad upbringing and just make it on her own. While I admit, the full details of her life didn’t totally add up to me, and didn’t quite fit for the motivations in the story, it still makes her sympathetic. She also has this great internal drive, one that, at least at the start, puts self preservation first. And this is one gripe I do have about this book: Abby changes, not necessarily for the better, because of Travis. He is a boy who is possessive, and certainly controlling to an extent, and her attraction to him overrides the plan she’s laid out for herself. I know, this really does happen, and McGuire does keep a painful realism through this book, not shying away from harsher things, but it is still hard to read about it, to be so involved in a character who you just can’t get behind their decision. Despite this, McGuire weaves it all together in a captivating way that had me hooked, and even if at times Abby got on my nerves, overall, I really liked her and her story.
Then there’s Travis, a guy who I recognize as overprotective to a fault, yet I admit it, I found the good parts of him to be so amazing. Certainly caring, and not totally selfish, Travis is, in a lot of ways, a boy who’s had a few too much thrown at him in life and never figured out how to cope. Though again, I didn’t totally feel like the reasons McGuire gave were quite enough, I still really enjoyed getting to know Travis, both the good and bad. While I can’t exactly say he goes through tremendous character growth, it is clear his priorities do shift, and his outlook on some things is altered as well.
That’s where this book left me tangled, and honestly, I feel like if a book can twist me like this one, the author is doing something right. Picked apart, there is so much wrong with this book and yet, I loved much of it. I loved the relationship between these two. I was very into just how messed up they were, both alone and together. They have an intensity and passion to them that singes, and McGuire had some fabulous scenes between these two. That's what really got me with this book: the intensity of everything between Travis and Abby. I admit it, he does pretty appalling stuff, and there is a lot against him, and not always enough driving him to change. When you can have a different girl every day, can own it in the fighting ring so you have a steady income, and are basically the big man on campus, what reason would you have to shake it all up? And yet, Abby does gives him reason. She's that girl that gets to him for reasons that he probably doesn't even totally understand himself, and not just because she's a challenge. I love the notion that a single person can make someone want to change, and this book plays on that in a big way without throwing it constantly in the reader's face.
Watching, even through Abby's eyes, the way Travis tries to fight against his attraction for her, tries to let her do what she wants even if he messes it up at times, just got to me. There is a tremendous push and pull between these two, one of those things that starts on the grounds of friendship, and even sort of stays in the friendship realm mostly out of stubbornness, yet there is always something more going on. This is one of those books that is as much about figuring yourself out as it is figuring it out who you are with someone else. In that sense, with the dark layers this book has, it captured me. Yet there is a dark side to even the dark things I love, and for this book, it was the almost extreme that things went to, the danger and fear and co-dependency.
Where it went wrong for me was about halfway through, when the pacing dropped off in a big way. I felt like after about halfway, really, when a pretty big decision is made, things went stagnant and repetitive. Shifting into being entirely too back and forth in a bad way, of we’re together and now we’re not, the second half of this book did not hold up to the entrancement of the first half. Already let down, the ending most definitely left me with a bad taste in my mouth. Honestly, I felt like this was two different books, cut in half and meshed together down the middle. And while I recognize that this book is intended to be a romance, I really did not feel, with who the characters were in the first half, that it should have been that way, at least not in regards to romanticizing such an inherently faulted relationship. Again, I do know this kind of stuff is, sadly, realistic, but it's the notion of a happily ever after that follows all this that doesn't sit well with me.
Still, the first half was so strong, and so engaging for me that this book wasn’t a total waste. I loved the writing, with a strength to it that had me not only really into Abby’s head but emotionally tied as well. Overall, I enjoyed this book, even if it had a few problems that fell short for me. This is one of those books that I can see causing a stir, and I can even see why people might dislike it, but at least for the first half, and some elements of the second half, totally worked for me and had me unable to put it down and go to sleep.
Reading Level: 17 and up
Paperback: 432 pages
Publisher: Atria Books
Publication Date: August 14, 2012