By page 5, I had assigned Taking Chances a D grade because of an abundance of truly spectacular run-on sentences. I’d hoped that I’d be able to overlook this disregard of basic English grammar, which occurred at least three or four times per page, and get lost in the story or become captivated by the characters. In the end, however, the only redeeming thing about this book for me is the fact that, as a reviewer, I didn’t pay any money for it.
Harper leaves her strict Marine father to attend San Diego State University all the way across the country. She’s a home-schooled, naïve girl who has zero experience with boys, parties, or any of the fun aspects of being a teen. Not to worry. Harper’s new roommate, Breanna, is a popular party queen, and she sets out to show Harper how to act at the immature end of her age. First come a make-over and a new outfit that lets Harper’s inner sex goddess shine through. Then comes a genuine college kegger party full of hot guys just waiting to deflower this sweet young thing.
Within minutes of arriving at the party, Harper meets Chase, a tattooed bad-boy who nicknames Harper “Princess” and offends her by displaying his man-whore tendencies. When Breanna gets drunk and can’t drive the girls back to the dorm, Chase offers Harper his bed to sleep in – while he’s still in it – and although they spend the night platonically, he promises her that it won’t be long before she’s begging him to get physical. Harper sneers at his confidence, but deep down, she’s intrigued even if she won’t admit it to herself.
Classes begin and Harper meets and begins dating Chase’s roommate Brandon, another campus hottie who falls fast and hard for Harper. She soon finds herself in love with Brandon, although she keeps him at arm’s length, putting a stop to things whenever they get close to actually consummating their relationship. It’s only after sharing a night of passion with Chase, who has fallen hard for his Princess, that she realizes she’s in love with Chase, too, and that’s why she’s been saving herself. Choosing between Brandon and Chase is impossible because Harper can’t bear the thought of giving either of them up or causing either of them the crushing pain of a broken heart.
I can’t say much more about the plot because to do so would be to reveal some pretty major spoilers. Suffice it to say, due to some poor decision-making, Harper’s dalliance with Chase has unintended, life altering consequences (subtle hint). Despite Chase’s assurances that he is thrilled with this unexpected turn of events and his avowed love for her, Harper still suspects Chase of cheating on her when he gets some questionable texts from another girl. A fight between the two leads to a tragedy that affects everyone in Harper’s world.
I’m starting to worry that there is a formula for contemporary New Adult stories and characters because nothing about Taking Chances was the least bit original. Everything from the love triangle down to the heroine getting pierced and/or tattooed to demonstrate her new independence was included.
Harper is a Mary Sue of the highest order. She grew up surrounded by young Marines who all adored her so much, they begged her not to go off to college and they retain crushes on her even after she’s gone. By her own description, she’s got perfect hair (“Thankfully, my thick auburn hair was already naturally straight…”). And eyes and skin (”I’d been blessed with a smooth complexion and had wide gray eyes hidden behind long dark lashes”). With a petite, perfect figure that all men find absolutely drool-worthy, she’s a natural sex kitten despite never having so much as kissed a boy before leaving home. When she meets two of the hottest guys on campus, they instantly fall madly in love with her. Of course they do, because everybody loves Harper. Even Brandon and Chase’s respective families think she’s the bee’s knees.
Me? I couldn’t have disliked her more. She was a hypocrite who wrongly accused and condemned Chase for cheating on her when she herself had cheated on Brandon with Chase. Additionally, she makes a couple of monumentally immature and stupid decisions that caused any compassion I might have had over her love triangle dilemma to evaporate into a cloud of you-deserve-what-you-get.
McAdams falls into the trap of using a love triangle to try to convince us how fantastic Harper is rather than showing how it’s possible that two guys fell so deeply in love with her in the first place. Brandon and Chase both adore Harper for pretty much just existing. Indeed, they love her so much, they are incredibly understanding and sympathetic towards Harper’s inability to give either of them up, even to the point of accepting her infidelities. I didn’t find this as evidence of her worthiness of the love of two men but rather further indication that these characters are beyond unrealistic.
Too, one would think that Harper would, at the very least, grow up a little bit after her extreme experiences. But by the story’s end, she has pretty much everything she wants without changing in any fundamental way. Hers is a story I’d hope my daughter would avoid at all cost when leaving for university.
As for the guys, they fit the generic mold of the New Adult anti-hero to a T: uber-protective, tattooed, panty-melting bad-boys who fall fast and hard for the heroine pretty much at first sight. I’d love to know when MMA/UFC fighting became the go-to work-study gig for all of the college guys these days. The last three NA books I’ve read have all featured heroes who made oodles of money fighting both legally and in underground cage matches. Who knew punching and kicking other people was so lucrative?
Not only am I sorry that I cannot recommend this book to anyone who desires an original, worthwhile reading experience, having read it makes me seriously doubt the longevity of New Adult as the hot up and coming subgenre. If they all contain love triangles between self-absorbed heroines and interchangeable heroes like the ones I found in Taking Chances, it won’t be long before readers gladly move on to the next new thing.