[New release: 7th June, 2013]
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...
Quotes are from the ARC version and might be different in the final copy.
I made it to 14% before giving up with this book. I haven't given it a Goodreads rating, but be warned that this review will be in no way complimentary.
It's rare that I DNF a book. I requested this book after hearing lots of great things about Pushing the Limits. Before reading Dare You To, I read PTL to familiarise myself with the series, and I found I had a lot of issues with that book. Still, I decided to give DYT a fair go. And I will say this: Katie McGarry writes pretty good drama. There are a lot of issues that she's not afraid to tackle as a writer, and I think it's interesting (and perhaps necessary) to see characters who are damaged by genuinely harmful or shocking life events. From reading PTL, I also know she writes romance with hormones, which is nice to see (i.e., we're not dealing with perpetual virgins here).
So what's the problem?
I will say right now that my issue with Dare You To is character-based, and that I know I am in the minority here when I say I didn't enjoy, or finish, the book. I have debated with myself whether or not to post this review, but it's something I wanted to put out there as air my thoughts, as it were.
The opening chapter of Dare You To was almost enough to make me stop reading in itself. We're introduced to Ryan and his friends, Chris and Logan, in a taco place. They've dared each other to get as many girls' phone numbers as possible that evening. When successful, they dump the slips of paper on the table. Ooh, conquests! And remember guys - the girl needs to be "chosen carefully": "Attractive enough so she won't fall for you. Not a dog because she'll be excited someone gave her a bone." Not that they'll call, of course, it's just a fun game. Well, Chris might call... HAHA! Only joking. 'Cause he "loves his girl" too much. Way to demonstrate that one, Chris.
So then we have Ryan, narrator of half the book's chapters and the kind of guy who HATES TO LOSE in a you-won't-like-me-when-I'm-angry, let-me-punch-the-table-because-I-might-lose-the-dare kind of way (or, as I prefer, in a just-plain-dickish kind of way). He's dared to get the phone number of so-called 'Skater-Girl', who walks into the taco place to, you know, get a taco. Skater Girl, or Beth, is approached by Ryan and rightly tells him to fuck off when he tries to smarm his way around her. Of course, Ryan believes that secretly, Skater Girl wants his attention - "She might look different from the girls at home, but all girls want the same thing - a guy who shows interest." HOLY CRAP, RYAN. You just figured out women. HIGH FIVE.
Beth tells Ryan there's "nothing you can do" to get her to hand over her name or phone number. So what does Ryan do? Walk away? Forget about the whole thing? Realise he's acting like a knob? No, ladies and gentleman, he ramps up the knob act a little further:
"Purposely invading her space, I steal a step toward her and place a hand on the counter next to her body. It affects her. I can tell. [...] She's small. Smaller than I expected."
What the ever-loving fuck is this? A girl tells you she's not interested, and you proceed to pin her up against the counter, invade her personal space, and take some kind of delight in the fact that you harrassment "affects her"?
But it's okay, because Ryan knows women, remember. He also knows what they should and shouldn't be doing. When Beth swears, she asks if he's offended by her language. He says no. His inner reaction is this: "Yes. [...] Girls don't use fuck. Or they shouldn't."
Well, fuck you, Ryan. Fuck you and your ideas about what girls want, and what girls should look like, and what girls should do.
[Minor spoiler] Oh, but don't get me wrong. Ryan is all about choice, at least when it comes to his brother being gay. One of Ryan's friends begrudgingly states that he's "cool" with Ryan's brother's "life choices" (I read that part out loud to my housemate, who said at exactly the same time as me - "IT'S NOT A LIFE CHOICE!"). Ryan is mad at his brother, because he left the house after his dad basically made him choose between being gay, and his family. Way to go, Ryan's dad. Way to be a homophobic dick. But hey, Ryan, go ahead and be mad at your brother for not sacrificing his own happiness and identity for your knobcheese of a father.
But so what? Why does Ryan bother me so much? He's a character in a book. I read a lot of books, and I have encountered a lot of arsehole characters in my time. They don't stop me reading the book - books need villains, and books need people you love to hate, and books need characters you don't agree with. I don't dispute any of that. What bothers me about Ryan is he's the hero. He's the guy you're meant to think is hot and desirable and the kind of guy you wish you could find at your high school. In Dare You To, you're meant to be so taken with Ryan that you forget the relationship between Beth and Isaiah that was set up in Pushing the Limits. And I have a problem with being told that Ryan is that kind of guy.
And yes, I am 27, and maybe a little older than the target audience here. I don't think that makes it any better. I teach a class of teenage girls who at times have such problematic ideas about boys and sex and control and violence that I can't just let characters like Ryan go. (I teach a class in which I have had to say, on numerous occasions, that controlling behaviour is never acceptable, that domestic violence is never justified, that girls are never "asking for it", and it hurts a little every time I have to do it.) Equally, there are characters like Chris, who texts his girlfriend constantly at a party they're all at, because he might trust "his girl" (arrrrgh) but he sure as HELL doesn't trust other drunk guys around her. So drunk, predatory guys at parties are just a fact of life here, and the girl needs protecting. Thankfully, Chris's girlfriend has Chris around, or else she'd probably never be able to leave the house.
Beth's characterisation I found problematic too. I felt for her - she's is trapped in some pretty horrific situations by her mum and her mum's violent boyfriend, and is sent to live with a family member she hasn't seen in years. All of this had the makings of an interesting plot - what I found disturbing were the numerous references to why Beth was like she was, particularly with regards to her appearance. When stoned, she talks about loving dresses and pink when she was a kid, and babbles a bit about ribbons. Her step-aunt asks why she has black hair now, when she was once blond. I have a horrible, horrible feeling (and I really hope I'm wrong) that during the course of this book, Beth shuns her "hardcore" look in favour this traditionally feminine image that the book seems to be suggesting she would secretly love, if only she didn't have all these "issues" and maybe a boy would love her enough so she could become a proper girl. The girl-saved-by-boy trope seems to be alive and well. (Unless you're a bad, slutty, harridan of a girl. Then you deserve what you get.)
So, in summary, according to Ryan and his friends, women should probably shut up and stop swearing (and maybe wipe off that eyeliner while they're at it), and gay men should probably stop choosing to be gay. I'm sorry if I can't reconcile this with any attempt to make Ryan 'book boyfriend' material, but I really, really can't. I think there is an element of trying to make Ryan and his friends "real" in this book - all that peppering their speech with "damn" (as in "damn if she doesn't make me hot", like you're really in a Matchbox 20 song now) and refusing to sugarcoat sex and relationships and the way boys are together. I don't begrudge this attempt at authenticity, but I do refuse to validate it. I know "real-life boys" (of which I know plenty) are not the lovestruck, eloquent specimens of some YA novels, but they're not all like this, either, and I don't like the idea of this misogynistic, controlling, saving behaviour being portrayed as either normal, or desirable.
Of course, I put this book down quite early, so I am aware there is room for Ryan to develop and change. I suspect, from the clues early in the book, that he will fall out with his dad, reunite with his brother, forgo a career in baseball for a writing career (given a weird, WEIRD burst of eloquence about what baseball means to him that just happens to take place in front of his English teacher, who utters a version of those fateful words - "You're a writer, Ryan") and get the girl. Beth will realise that her uncle is just trying to help, her mum will get better and dump her hideous boyfriend (or else Beth will realise there's nothing she can do to help and write her off), and she's stop dressing like 'Skater Girl' and become perfect girlfriend material.
I just really, really don't have the patience or the stomach to find out.
Overall rating: DNF
Book source: ebook ARC received from review from Netgalley.