Dare You To
I read Katie McGarry’s Dare You To right on the heels of the book that preceded it, Pushing the Limits, because I couldn’t figure out how in the world McGarry could turn such a bitchy character as Beth Fisk into someone that I could root for. While I did eventually warm to the girl, I have to say it was a long, rough road and not nearly as pleasurably traveled as the first book in this trilogy.
Beth Risk is in a no-win situation. After an altercation with her alcoholic mother’s abusive boyfriend, Trent, lands Beth in jail, her uncle Scott arrives to take her away from her completely dysfunctional life. Beth refuses to leave her mother to the mercy of Trent, but unless Beth agrees to go with him, Scott threatens to tell the police things that could send her mother in jail. Hating Scott and pretty much everyone on the planet, Beth moves to the small town of Groveton, leaving behind her only friends, Isaiah and Noah.
Ryan Stone is a winner. As a baseball pitcher hoping to go pro. As a popular guy at school. As the member of a family that, for all outward appearances, seems perfect. And especially when it comes to the dares instigated by his best friends, Chris and Logan. So when the sexy Skater Girl at the Taco Bell rebuffs his efforts to get her number and thus causes him to lose their latest challenge, Ryan is frustrated. He certainly never expects to get another chance. Then Groveton hometown boy-turned-famous baseball player Scott Fisk asks Ryan to show his niece – the Taco Bell Skater Girl – around her new school, and Ryan can’t believe his luck. He’ll turn on the Stone charm and show his friends that there isn’t a dare he can’t win.
The last thing Beth wants to deal with is the pretty-boy jock who hit on her at the Taco Bell. But Ryan won’t take a hint and leave her alone no matter how meanly she treats him. Ryan is determined to win his dare and pushes Beth to spend time with him. Except, once he begins to really know her, he realizes there is a soft side buried deep beneath her hard exterior, and he really likes that girl. Eventually, Beth begins to let her walls down with Ryan and finds that she truly likes the guy, but she’ll do whatever it takes to rescue her mother.
While Dare You To works perfectly fine as a stand-alone, I was glad I’d already read the first book in the trilogy because it set up some of the relationship dynamics that played a key role in Beth’s story. Like the first book, it’s told in alternating viewpoints between Beth and Ryan.
Flat out, Beth Fisk begins this book a very hard girl to like. She’s cruel, foul-mouthed, and hostile to everyone she encounters, even those who want to be her friend. For the longest time, I felt that Ryan was far too good for her. In fact, at one point, after Beth has used Ryan to snag a ride to Louisville where she ostensibly plans to run off with her mother and leave Ryan to take the heat for letting her get away, Ryan decides she’s not worth it, and I actually cheered. Because while I understood why Beth was the way she was and that she had good reasons for her lack of trust and need to push everyone away, it didn’t make her behavior any less obnoxious. She wasn’t a person I could see myself ever calling a friend.
Ryan is one of those sweet guys who, despite being a popular jock, is really very innocent. He’s dealing with the aftermath of his older brother’s revelation that he’s gay and his parents’ imploding marriage. Add in the fact that his father refuses to understand how Ryan might want to pursue any interest other than baseball – including possibly going to college to study writing instead of going straight to the pros – and Ryan’s problems are no less real than Beth’s, if a bit less dramatic.
The love between Ryan and Beth didn’t feel as strong as Echo and Noah’s, and I’m sure much of that was my initial dislike for Beth. I just couldn’t understand what Ryan saw in her. That said, Ryan’s gestures to prove the strength and permanence of his feelings for Beth were romantic and chivalrous. Unfortunately, McGarry leaned on a somewhat clichéd Big Misunderstanding to drive a wedge between them that I found unnecessary given all of the other, more serious problems these two kids had to deal with.
As Echo and Noah did in Pushing the Limits, Beth and Ryan view their lives through the filter of youth, and it takes them the entire course of the story to come to conclusions that I, as an adult reader, could see so very clearly from the very beginning. But that’s what these stories are about, how growing up involves the process of seeing people and situations for what they truly are and learning to differentiate where you are responsible versus where others own their own choices.
While I didn’t love Dare You To as much as the author’s first book, I liked it well enough. McGarry has a third title due out in late November in which Beth’s best friend Isaiah gets his story, and I’ll be excited to get my hands on it.