It's Not You, It's Me - Dare You To by Katie McGarry
Note: You’ll be amused that this started out as part of a group of mini-reviews. Whoops.
While I wasn't enamored with Katie McGarry’s Pushing the Limits as seemingly everyone else was, the character who intrigued me the most in that novel was Beth. Beth’s surly personality piqued my interest as a side character in that book, and her unusual dynamic with Isaac, another secondary character in that novel, made me curious about her story.
So, despite that Pushing the Limits wasn’t a hit for me, when I learned that Beth would be one of the two points of view in the companion novel, Dare You To, I was tentatively excited.
Unfortunately, I am starting to suspect that with McGarry's novels, it comes down to the fact that these simply aren't the kind of stories I enjoy. They are very dramatic. The characters consistently make poor choices that don't make a lot of sense, which nearly always escalates the drama. There are big mistakes and equally big gestures. All of these elements are trends in contemporary, romance-focused fiction at the moment, crossing young adult, adult and the enigmatic “new adult” categories.
When it comes down to it, I prefer quieter, more introspective reading.
Not dry, mind you, but I often find the little missteps and subtle, internal conflicts more compelling than grievous misunderstandings.
Dare You To is told from two points-of-view, that of the aforementioned Beth, and Ryan, a talented high school baseball player. Due to her disastrous home life, Beth finds herself living with her uncle Scott, an accomplished former professional ballplayer. Scott is a local celebrity, so naturally, Ryan’s interested finding his way into Scott’s good graces. There’s also the little matter of the dare referenced in the title bringing them together as well.
Ryan’s point-of-view was the more frustrating of the two for me. One one hand, his issues were very real. He has tremendous expectations from his father regarding his athletic success, plus the added weight of his older brother being effectively excommunicated from the family after coming out as gay. The situation is lousy, and not at all uncommon. However, I felt as if I as the reader was constantly being told things such as "Ryan loves baseball!" but I never felt Ryan's connection to the sport (the same goes with his supposed talent for writing). I did appreciate that there was a bit of a role reversal with his character versus what we frequently see in YA (my vagueness is intentional here, but the dynamic and details is effectively an inverse of Pushing the Limits), but ultimately I was left feeling as if this character was full of unrealized potential.
Beth worked a bit better for me, possibly because I already knew her from Pushing the Limits. One thing I have to applaud Katie McGarry for is not having Beth’s love interest be Isaac, whom I’d guessed it would be. Those two have a special relationship in both books, but I felt like Beth finding someone whose experiences were different from hers made her character more believable and hopeful.
For me, Dare You To speaks to the challenges of the dual first-person narration.
In theory, I love dual first-person narration, but I keep finding myself frustrated by it. Sometimes, it feels as if one of the characters deserves a story entirely from her own perspective (Hooked); other times the narrators blend together. In the case of Dare You To, there was nothing explicitly wrong with the dual point-of-view, except that it seemed to give the novel unnecessary weight.
Dare You To is long, 450-plus pages, and despite that, it still read as a bit loose, with each character’s viewpoint also containing a secondary story not involving the other main character. If this book had focused solely on the story of the Beth-Ryan relationship, and explored more of the quiet moments without the distractions of the multiple mini-stories, I likely would have felt differently.
Honestly, this is a case of "It's not you, it's me."
Hence I didn't assign Dare You To a rating on Goodreads, because my lower rating wouldn't really be fair. I wanted to try Katie McGarry again, because her debut piqued my interest enough to give her another shot and a lot of folks have compared the writing to Jennifer Echols, whose books I generally adore. I was just talking to some friends about how I don't understand why people read books they know they won't enjoy (ie, folks who read YA novels and complain constantly about the characters being "too high school"), and now I feel like a bit of a jerk, because I kind of did that here. However, it was out of sincere curiosity about what the author would do with rough-around-the-edges Beth, who was quite intriguing in Pushing the Limits.
If you liked Pushing the Limits, you'll like Dare You To. If you liked Simmone Elkeles' Perfect Chemistry books, you'll probably like this. If you liked Miranda Kenneally's novels, you'll probably like Katie McGarry’s too. If you enjoy the "New Adult" contemporary romances that are all the rage right now and want to give a similar type of novel with a YA audience in mind a spin, this would be a worthwhile book to pick up as well. McGarry knows how to craft a pace-y, readable story, and Dare You To is definitely that, and I’m sure the right audience will devour this novel--I’m just not that audience.
Disclosure: Received for review from the publisher.