I can't really be bothered to write my usual style of review. I'm the last person on the planet to read it, so summarizing the plot just seems a waste of time. Instead, I'm going to skip straight to my criticism.
First off, if you don't like first person narration, this is not the book that will change your mind. It uses the device particularly poorly. Our narrator, the heroine, at times has too much insight into the minds of others and at other times has too little knowledge of her own mind. None of her personality comes through in the narration. She just describes what she and the people around her did, using a flat, emotionless sort of voice. It was like the story was written in third person then run through a find/replace to switch the pronouns. Abby thinks bizarre things like:
"I looked down to my plate, letting the long strands of my caramel hair create a curtain between us."
and mangles grammar like:
"Kara was reading ahead in her brand-new books, grimacing at America and I when we walked in."
Secondly, I think this early bit of characterization says it all about Travis:
"He had tattoos on opposite sides of his chest, and black tribal art covering each of his bulging shoulders."
Since tribal tattoo = douchebag, the fact that he's a misogynist asshole didn't surprise me too much:
“I don’t promise anyone anything, Pidge. She didn’t stipulate a relationship before she spread eagle on my couch.”I stared at the couch with revulsion. “She’s someone’s daughter, Travis. What if, down the line, someone treats your daughter like that?”“My daughter better not drop her panties for some jackass she just met, let’s put it that way.”
Nice sex negative message there, don't you think? Abby the virgin is a good girl. All of Travis' past one night stands are referred to as "sluts," "bimbos," "whores" and "Barbie dolls." Abby joins right in with Travis on the slut shaming, making it plain that the sexual double standard isn't just a character flaw of Travis', it's an assumption that drives the narrative. Women who enjoy sex are dirty sluts who don't deserve respect in this story's world, and that's some sad internalized misogyny.
Next up is how Travis is a textbook abuser archetype. He never hits Abby or any other woman in the book, but he exhibits every quality present in your average domestic abuser. He has a violent temper when he doesn't get his way:
“He took a swing at Shep when he found out we helped you leave. Abby! Please tell me!” she pleaded, her eyes glossing over. “It’s scaring me!”
The fear in her eyes forced only the partial truth. “I just couldn’t say goodbye. You know it’s hard for me.”
“It’s something else, Abby. He’s gone fucking nuts! I heard him call your name, and then he stomped all over the apartment looking for you. He barged into Shep’s room, demanding to know where you were. Then he tried to call you. Over, and over and over,” she sighed. “His face was…Jesus, Abby. I’ve never seen him like that.
“He ripped his sheets off the bed, and threw them away, threw his pillows away, shattered his mirror with his fist, kicked his door…broke it from the hinges! It was the scariest thing I’ve ever seen in my life!”
He's possessive, even after Abby's broken up with him:
“I love you. I can’t let other guys dance with you.”
He's quick to violence when he feels he's been insulted:
"Travis lifted Finch’s tray off the table and swung it into Chris’ face, knocking him off his chair. Chris tried to scramble under the table, but Travis pulled him out by his legs, and then began to wail on him.Chris curled into a ball, and then Travis kicked him in the back. Chris arched and turned, holding his hands out, allowing Travis to land several punches to his face. The blood began to flow, and Travis stood up, winded."
And, most importantly, he sees nothing wrong with his behavior. I'm not a sheltered delicate flower. I'm a hockey fan who has been in her fair share of scraps over the years. I don't think a violent temper necessarily makes someone a predator. What makes Travis a predator, to my mind, is how his violent attacks on people outside the fight ring aren't treated as a personality flaw. These actions are not only not condemned by the characters or narrative, they're actually held up as examples of his love for and devotion to Abby. Viciously bloodying an innocent bystander's nose is treated as a heroic act.
All that said, had this book ended at its halfway point, I think I would have begrudgingly given it 4* for being a cracktastic trip back to college to stroll down Bad Life Decisions Lane. It encapsulated the self-centered, impulsive, emotional and dramatic whirlwind that is young adulthood in a way adult contemporary romance does not. I know, as someone who graduated from college more than a decade ago, that Travis is bad news and that Abby's a head case, but college is the time for bad behavior. I would've liked an indication from the narrative that they were all screwed up and/or getting away with something, but it was seductive to go back to a time where you didn't know any better and you felt free to take crazy risks.
Unfortunately, the author seems to have been unable to part with her characters and spent the second half writing her own fan fiction where Abby and Travis have Adventures! and break up and make up along the way. There's a beyond bizarre trip to Vegas that comes out of fucking nowhere. Abby's father is pointlessly introduced and forgotten about in an abrupt fashion. There's a throwaway sub-plot involving a mobster and a brush with death just to seal the deal. Where the first half of the book follows a nice dramatic arc, the second half is a half-witted sine wave shamelessly stalling the HEA. Bleh.
In the end, the gratuitous violence, misogyny, poor writing and uneven pacing team up to make this a sub par read for me. I'm not going to wring my hands over the terrible message this sends to YA readers, because I don't think fiction works on people like that, but neither can I enjoy something with such glaring negative themes in it. McGuire has a knack for telling a story, but I can't ignore the flaws in this to enjoy it. 2*