Now, this book is a bit far from what I usually read. It is without any faery magic or paranormal beings. It is raw and encapsulates the American college student culture that I cannot even begin to understand. It is dirty and disturbing in ways different to the horrors of dark fantasy. Buckle up, because I have a lot of things to say.
Its title is Beautiful Disaster by Jamie McGuire.
Oh boy, it’s a Disaster alright.
This book is problematic. It follows a young adult named Abby, who is hoping to escape her dark past and start anew, but piques the interest of the campus “Walking One-Night Stand”, Travis, and disaster ensues. After unproductive pining and obliviousness, aggression and violence, they fall into each other.
The reviews for this book on Goodreads really span the entire spectrum: readers are either praising the work for showing ‘real’, flawed characters who develop into better versions of themselves, or they are absolutely repulsed as they feel the author is making abusive behaviours appear acceptable.
Abusive behaviours are not romantic
One of the wildest things is readers expressing their desire to have their own Travis. I have scrolled past many, many comments with women swooning because he’s so sexy and “I WANT ONE!”. Of course there is the classic YA trope of a dark, untouchable bad boy, but a line needs to be drawn.
Travis is dangerous. He is volatile. He acts out in moments of insecurity. He is poisonous and destructive both mentally and physically. It’s even worse that Abby seems to encourage his behaviour (and that the bystanders just seem to be ok with it too!) They are both toxic people and this needs to be recognised – especially by young readers. This is not something to strive towards. For readers at an impressionable age, shaping their ideals around a character like Travis (or Abby for that matter!) is trouble. They MUST recognise that these behaviours are not ok.
The potential for a person to change is always there, but if, in a real life situation, these young readers approach and deeply involve themselves with a Travis as a challenge, believing that they may be able to work some Abby magic, then they need to have a serious talk with someone.
Expectation vs. reality
Ultimately, something that Beautiful Disaster does well (coughs, maybe the only thing) is highlight that relationships are not always rainbows and butterflies. Abby and Travis’ example is definitely an extreme, but the point does come across: despite the bad weather conditions and rough waves, ships can still sail.
There are certainly areas in which the supporting characters could have enriched the story. In particular, their reactions to Travis’ outbursts or Abby’s follow-up were not realistic. It’s unsurprising that readers feel Jamie is encouraging the abusive behaviour.
Most importantly, something that writers (especially in YA fiction) need to be aware of is their audience. Young women are the most likely to pick up these books. What then?
To those who are defending Beautiful Disaster by saying that it is purely fiction, I’m relieved that you are able to differentiate narrative from reality. What about the young women reading? What about the ones who are not yet mature enough to tell the difference? Understand that someone who is naive to these details could completely get the wrong idea.
Finally, I leave you with an unbelievable quote from the Goodreads community reviews: “Thanks to my mother who recommended me this book”.
header image: lonely_planet