Why I read it: I picked this one up from NetGalley. I loved Pushing the Limits last year and was so looking forward to where this author would take Beth... and Isaiah. I had read the first chapter in the back of Pushing the Limits so I had a fair idea that Isaiah wasn't the hero. He's the hero in the next book. Cannot Wait.
What it's about (from Goodreads): "I dare you..."
If anyone knew the truth about Beth Risk's home life, they'd send her mother to jail and seventeen-year-old Beth who knows where. So she protects her mom at all costs. Until the day her uncle swoops in and forces Beth to choose between her mom's freedom and her own happiness. That's how Beth finds herself living with an aunt who doesn't want her and going to a school that doesn't understand her. At all. Except for the one guy who shouldn't get her, but does....
Ryan Stone is the town golden boy, a popular baseball star jock-with secrets he can't tell anyone. Not even the friends he shares everything with, including the constant dares to do crazy things. The craziest? Asking out the Skater girl who couldn't be less interested in him.
But what begins as a dare becomes an intense attraction neither Ryan nor Beth expected. Suddenly, the boy with the flawless image risks his dreams-and his life-for the girl he loves, and the girl who won't let anyone get too close is daring herself to want it all....
What worked for me (and what didn't): I loved this. On Goodreads, it says the book is just over 300 pages but on my reader it was showing up at just over 600. Who knows why. But regardless of the actual length, the book was a pleasure to read. I really like Ms. McGarry's writing style. I like the alternating POV chapters, from both Beth's and then Ryan's perspectives. The present tense fit the immediacy of the book too.
After I closed the book, I gave a happy book sigh and thought about how much I loved it. Then I started to think a little and there were a few niggles. Mostly they are only niggles however.
The main issue I had was that there wasn't quite enough of the adults, particularly Scott and Allison in the book - I would have liked a better handle on them and their interaction with Beth. I liked that Scott wasn't perfect but I didn't get quite enough of him. And, there was almost nothing of Allison. There had obviously been a turnaround between Beth and Allison by the end of the book, but I didn't really see it and I would have liked to.
The other issue was that there wasn't quite as much physical intimacy in this book as there was in Pushing the Limits, even though Beth and Ryan do go further than Noah and Echo ever did. I've posted before about how I'm not usually a fade to black girl. It's not that I wanted explicit here - in fact, I'm glad it wasn't explicit - it wouldn't have fitted the book. But, in Pushing the Limits there was a lot of intimacy, touching (affectionate as well as sexual type touching) and that was enough to satisfy my voyeuristic needs. Here, I felt there wasn't quite as much of it, even though the connection between Ryan and Beth was just a strong as it was between Noah and Echo.
The rest is niggles. I'm Australian so I don't know much about Homecoming or high school baseball and I'm fuzzy on the timing of the US school year. Ours is pretty much the calendar year, with a big break over Christmas (which is our summer). Near the end of the book Beth is sitting for a test and she's so freaked out she can't complete it. I was worried that maybe she'd fail. I found out (thank you Twitter!) that the book finishes fairly early in the school year, so that made me feel better.
I was unclear on what happened with Ryan's baseball team. Did they win? When I asked on Twitter, there was discussion to the effect that high school baseball was a spring sport but the book is definitely set in the autumn (fall, for you US types), with it ending at Homecoming which I think is in about October.
Those little niggles - they were only there because I cared so much about the characters. I loved Chris and Lacy and Logan (although I'm worried Logan is going to do something stupid and hurt himself one day). I loved the theme of dares and how that fit in with Ryan's and Beth's relationship.
Ryan is, on the surface, perfect. Everyone thinks he has the perfect life, the perfect family. He's the pitcher of the high school baseball team which won State last year and expects to do so again. He's looking to go in to pro baseball straight from school and, it seems, he's good enough to do it. But his life isn't perfect. His older brother Mark has been disowned after coming out, his parents are barely speaking and when they do it's to fight, his father is pressuring him to skip college and go straight to pro baseball, his teachers and his mother are keen on him entering the state creative writing competition (the prize is an academic scholarship) and furthering his skills by going to college. He has to learn to stand for himself. To stand up for Mark, to stand up to his dad, to identify what HE wants and whether he wants it for himself or for his dad or something else. That's his journey. So, not dire and angst but not nothing either. Nevertheless, at the beginning of the book, Ryan has been mostly cruising and things are just starting to get difficult.
Ms. McGarry writes the mind of a 17/18 year old boy authentically, IMO. Like here:
Ms. McGarry writes the mind of a 17/18 year old boy authentically, IMO. Like here:
Parties are great. They have girls, girls who drink beer, dancing, girls who like dancing, and guys who hate dancing but do it anyway in the hope of laying the girls who drink beer.and here
Last year, our science teacher dispelled the myth that sex crosses the minds of guys every seven seconds. I’m going to have to disagree with him on that.
Beth's life is harder. She's been the main caretaker of her mother since she was 8. Her mother is a drug addict, an alcoholic and has an abusive boyfriend - one who's just as happy to use Beth as a punching bag as anyone else.
Beth doesn't trust and she has very little reason to. All the adults in her life have left her, one way or another, let her down and left her alone. Isaiah is the only close friend she has but even he (to her mind) betrays her in this book and she feels terribly alone. She's tough and prickly and resilient but deep down, very fragile and I loved watching how she gradually opened up to Noah and Lacy and Scott as the book progressed, as she learned to trust herself and like herself and to feel a sense of home and belonging.
“Why?” Without meaning to, I shake her gently. I want her to say it back. “I’m in love with you. Tell me why I can’t say it to you.”
“Because you’ll leave!” she screams.
Beth’s chest heaves as if she ran a race. My hold on her tightens. Rain beats against the pond and the trees, creating a strange deafness from the world surrounding us.
Ryan's problems are different to Beth's problems but he's not so perfect that he can't understand her and he absolutely stands for Beth. I loved his journey as much as hers actually. I loved how Beth discombobulated Ryan. He is, for everything else that's going on, used to winning. As he says, he doesn't lose. But Beth isn't a pushover and he has to work to gain her friendship.“I couldn’t.” Never. Leaving her would be like tearing off my own arm. I’ve never been in love before. I thought I had been, but I wasn’t. This overwhelming, encompassing feeling is love. It’s not perfect and it’s messy as hell. And it’s exactly what I need.
The more she talks, the more my mind becomes a cluttered mess. “I like you. I. Like. You. I’ll admit, you’re annoying. Sometimes you agitate me to the brink of insanity, but you can throw it back at me like no one else. When you laugh, I want to laugh. When you smile, I want to smile. Hell, I want to be the one to make you smile..."My heart broke for Beth in this book. She was loyal to her mother when there was no loyalty returning. She had a terrible choice to make and she felt so very alone. Who would she sacrifice? Her mother? Herself? Ryan's problems weren't on the same scale, but both of them needed to gain trust in themselves and gather the courage to stand for what they needed and wanted rather than what other's expected or needed.
...Nothing was complicated then. Nothing hurt too much or seemed confusing. Everything was planned. Perfect.
On the outside, that is. How did I miss that everything internal was a mess? My parents. Mark. Me and Gwen. Lacy. Is Chris a mess? Logan? How many more of us are faking the facade? How many more of us are pretending to be something we’re not? Even better, how many of us will have the courage to be ourselves regardless of what others think?
What else? I did think Isaiah was a bit shortchanged. At the back of the book there is a Q&A with the author and she admits that she thought Beth and Isaiah would be together when she wrote Pushing the Limits - which explains why we all did too. But after starting on the plotting of the next book, she realised that Beth and Isaiah enabled one another. I absolutely think she's right on that. But here, Isaiah was left out in the cold. He's in love with Beth, he's there for her 100% but she turns away from him. Beth couldn't have been quite so clueless to know no he loved her could she? I do think that the way Isaiah feels about Beth is not the love Ryan has for her or Noah has for Echo (the author did sell me on that in this book) but Isaiah is a long way from that conclusion and I felt bad for him. He's getting his own book next, so I imagine I'll feel better once I see him end up with rich girl Rachel.
In the end, I grade on how a book makes me feel. On the feeling I have when I close the book. So, even though there were things which weren't perfect and which, on reflection, bothered me a little, I'm still going with my original grade. It's all about the happy book sigh.