I got this one as a preview from NetGalley, and the cover doesn’t show up on my Nook, so I had to steal the cover art from the NetGalley website. This is a pretty literal cover. When you read the book, you get it.
I’m sure the title of the book also has nothing to do with the song Dare You To Move by Switchfoot because there is a playlist in the end and that song isn’t on it. Nonetheless, I couldn’t get that song out of my head the whole time I was reading. Or now. And it is appropriate to tone and story. And this is not something that is relevant to the book review, is it?
I’m going to go really easy on spoilers here. Like I said, I got this one from NetGalley, and as of the writing of this it is still on pre-order on B&N, so I don’t want to ruin it for anyone. The plot, in short: Beth Risk gets lifted out of her terrible life circumstances by a rich uncle, moves in with him, and through some uncle-interfering ends up with BMOC baseball player Ryan Stone as her friend/guide to her new town and school. Angsty teen romance ensues. But, of course, Beth’s terrible life didn’t just disappear into fairy-land, and Ryan’s got issues of his own. I’m short-selling the plot big time here. Clearly, I hate doing plot reviews. Let’s get to what works about the book and what doesn’t.
The romance here is classic, and it works. Beth is a girl from the wrong side of the tracks that most people have given up hope on, Ryan is the superstar ballplayer whose life and future look “perfect,” there’s a meet-cute, there are obstacles to overcome, and YAY HEA! Exactly what a romance novel is supposed to be. Let me put this little disclaimer here - I do mean “romance.” It is aimed at teens, the main characters are teens, and the story is about them falling in love, not rushing to the bedroom. There is no explicit sex, despite the angst-in-pics cover that looks like so many of the New Adult titles coming out that are full of explicit sex. And I must say, props to McGarry for that. Beth and Ryan approach sex in an incredibly mature, responsible, and believable way.
There are a lot of other things about the high school experience in this story that are also represented in a believable way - insecurity, bullying, pressure, confusion and excitement about the future, and the comfort of having good friends. There’s also a “big theme” here about the difference between taking care of yourself and being selfish; Beth’s circumstances are certainly grittier and more dangerous than Ryan’s, but both of them are facing the same question about when it is better to put your own needs ahead of someone else’s. These other concerns are all handled well as part of the central romance story.
This brings me to my only major criticism of the book - the supporting cast is flat, particularly Ryan’s family. It isn’t as noticeable in Beth’s case, because her family problems are more extreme than Ryan’s. I guess this is a little spoiler, although it is clear pretty early on - Beth’s mom is an alcoholic/drug addict with an abusive live-in boyfriend. Because that’s the situation, Beth’s mom doesn’t have to be a particularly well drawn character for the conflict to make sense. The conflict in Ryan’s family is much more personality based. Ryan’s dad is a jerk but it’s never clear why he’s such a jerk. Ryan rebels against the expectations of his family, but the motivations for his family’s expectations are poorly (and all too quickly) explained. That became a distraction when Ryan decides to take a stand about what he is going to do with his future - all of his options were good (unlike Beth’s), and his parents weren’t developed enough for their objections to make sense.
The tropes that always bother me in romances bothered me here too. For instance, I hate that there is always one thing that the hero absolutely will not tolerate, and sometimes there’s an explanation and sometimes there isn’t. Ryan’s one thing that he absolutely will not tolerate is mistreating girls, with “mistreating” defined as anything from talking smack about his ex-girlfriend to physical violence. Before it seems like I’m heartless, let me just say I’m not in favor of characters who think it is cool to hit girls. (Or real people who think it’s cool to hit girls.) But the way the trope works, this one thing that will absolutely not be tolerated doesn’t seem to come organically from the character’s personality, and so it aggravates me. It would have been much more believable for Ryan to do the right thing just because he’s the kind of kid who does the right thing, and even surprises himself at how far he’s willing to go to do the right thing (because he is a teenager, after all), than for him to be so blindly insistent. I also hate the trope wherein the hero has the one thing that he absolutely must always do, and for Ryan he must always win, which is often phrased as “I do not lose.” Again, nothing wrong with ambition and hard work. But give me a break. Losing your girlfriend is not “losing.” It’s not a competition.
How to end this review? A thousand little cliches are rolling through my brain. I would put this book on the shelf in my classroom. (But I probably wouldn’t direct any boys to it.) I would recommend it to people I know like romance novels, especially the angsty version, even if they aren’t teenagers. There was a preview of another book in the series at the end of this one, and when I went to enter the book on my Goodreads account it was listed as #2 - I’ll most likely seek out book #1 (I’m guessing it is Noah and Echo) next time I’m in the mood for a romance novel, and I’ll keep my eye out for book #3. That’s about as good an endorsement as I can give.
And also, this song…