Jamie McGuire's Beautiful Disaster was mentioned twenty percent of the time in the sources I consulted about readalikes for the 50 Shades trilogy. It was one of the few books that I was actually able to find on the shelf at my library. Some spoilers follow.
The book told from the perspective of Abby Abernathy, a college freshman who is trying to make a fresh start and leave her troubled past behind. Through her best friend America, she meets the heavily tattooed Travis Maddox. A serial womanizer, fight club champion, and heavy drinker,Travis is everything that Abby is trying to escape from, yet she finds herself drawn to him. Abby is the only girl who has ever encountered Travis and not immediately succumbed to his charms. Although she's attracted, she manages to do an excellent job of avoiding falling into a romantic relationship with him.
After they become friends, Abby and Travis make a bet that results in her moving in to his apartment for a month and drastically increasing the intimacy between them, despite the fact that she begins to date someone else. Despite his protestations of disinterest, Travis has great difficulty seeing her with anyone else, and eventually the simmering attraction between them is addressed.
I don't want to say too much about what happens and spoil the rest of the book. If she had stopped with Abby and Travis getting together, McGuire would have had herself a garden-variety romance. However, the plot continues through revelations about Abby's past, a breakup, a trip to Vegas, and a fight club disaster before it reaches its conclusion.
Beautiful Disaster was one of the least sexually explicit books I've reviewed for this project. However, it has such an emotional roller coaster ride in the relationship depicted that it still qualifies, in my opinion, as a very good readalike for 50 Shades of Grey. It's told from Abby's first-person perspective, and her emotions and reactions are always in the foreground. Like Ana, she's a virgin, although she is far from naive. Travis is troubled, violent, aggressive, and absolutely obsessive about Abby, in the grand tradition of Christian Grey and countless other alpha males. McGuire does a good job of establishing Abby and Travis as believable friends before they become lovers. Once they're together, their level of obsessive need for one another feels similar to that described in 50 Shades and the Crossfire books.
The focus on eighteen and nineteen-year old characters in their first years of college, however, suggests that this title might be best described as (deep breath) New Adult. Given that, I wouldn't hesitate to give this book to teens who might be interested in the emotional content of a contemporary romance but not quite ready for an onslaught of sexual description. In that way, it might best be described as a more mature (and not at all paranormal) Twilight.
All that said, I had some issues with the plot. For example, Abby's father precipitates a particular plot twist, and then disappears for the rest of the book. The "will they-won't they" dragged on too long for my taste. There are probably those that feel a violently possessive friend/boyfriend is an attractive character, but that's just not my cup of tea. I also wish that characters in these books would stop calling each other by stupid nicknames; Travis calls Abby "Pigeon" or "Pidge" about a hundred times, and it made me want to scream by the time I was done.
McGuire just published Walking Disaster, which apparently tells the same story from Travis's perspective. This recalls Stephenie Meyer's abortive Midnight Sun, which re-told Twilight from Edward's point of view. The story at the time was that it had been so soundly mocked online that Meyer vowed never to finish it, but it seems it was the movies that interfered with her creative vision. But for those that want to experience the story again from a new perspective, Walking Disaster seems like a good bet.
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