Beautiful Disaster by Jamie McGuire. It’s a pretty damn well-known self-published book for what appear to be three main reasons:
- A lot of people like it (I’ve seen many call it “a disaster they can’t look away from”) and a lot of people hate it (they tend to call it a flat-out disaster).
- The content is extremely problematic; the male lead flips the fuck out when the female lead leaves his apartment without telling him. He throws his stereo across the room, scares his roommates, trashes his apartment in various ways, and more that all appear to be items on the checklist for an unbalanced person [review I cite this from].
- The author can really wank up a storm.
This novel and its sequel (BD in Travis’s point of view) Walking Disaster have been acquired by Atria Books, a Simon & Schuster imprint. I have many feelings about this and none of them are good.
(But first, a quick summary of her wank. She has attacked a negative reviewer in a blog post made solely about that reviewer and their review. She let people call her books YA on Goodreads and asked them to vote for it as a YA novel in the Goodreads Awards without comment for months before she tried to say it’s an adult novel. For liking a comment criticizing her about her contradictory statements concerning BD’s genre, I got blocked from her Facebook page.)
(The reason I haven’t linked to any “proof” in that previous paragraph, though I can certainly pull it up, is that I’m not concerned with proving my claims in this post; this is about how I feel about this book and the news it will be professionally published. If you want to think I’m lying to make the author look bad when you can tell this post is pretty serious thinking on my part, that’s your problem. You obviously don’t know me very well.)
It feels strange to criticize this book without having read it, but I have a very good reason for not reading it: I am aware it will trigger me. I am very sensitive to the nature of relationships in novels and when they’re unhealthy, I get really uncomfortable. When it’s as unhealthy as it is in Beautiful Disaster, I get triggered. I have difficulty breathing, all my thought processes slow down or stop, and I am basically a useless, hyperventilating ball until I can calm down. It’s not pretty. I have read many summaries of the novel from many different people, both fans and critics, and I have been triggered a few times while reading more in-depth, graphic summaries.
I can take a lot of bullshit in books and I end up reading quite a few bad books whether or not I intend to, but reading Beautiful Disaster is something I cannot and will not do. Reading bad books is one thing. I’m not going to jeopardize my mental health with something I know will trigger me.
In my quest to become a discerning media critic who isn’t afraid to call out problems in YA novels and won’t miss anything, I recently started reading a nonfiction book about the social implications of reality TV’s portrayal of women, people of color, LGBT people, and other marginalized groups. A statement made in the introduction rings true not just for reality TV, but for all consumable media, including books:
All media must have social responsibility.
Books are not just books. They are forms of media that shape people’s ideas and feelings. People who tell me books are just books when I’m criticizing an element of it (like, say, if I’m calling out misogyny in the Halo series by Alexandra Adornetto) and I shouldn’t get so worked up about it infuriate me because in that respect, books are not just books. When people tell a person they should slit their wrists, that’s when it’s appropriate to say that a book is just a book. No one should be told to kill themselves or be given death threats because they think Beautiful Disaster is a crock or they didn’t like Wicked Lovely.
One of the chapters in that nonfiction book (Reality Bites Back: The Troubling Truth about Guilty Pleasure TV by Jennifer L. Pozner) actually deals with how violence against women is romanticized/brushed off/played for laughs, discusses its effect on both genders, and makes it clear why this is a really bad thing. Beautiful Disaster and the way some fans want a Travis of their own when he is clearly unstable and a relationship with any man like him would end badly is a clear example of what happens when media doesn’t take responsibility for the messages it sends.
I feel sorry for Jamie McGuire. I really do. Because the media she grew up with said “it’s just entertainment” when someone made a valid criticism of it, thereby refusing to take social responsibility, she can’t recognize that Abby and Travis’s relationship as she has written it is unhealthy. She had denied it multiple times, but a rule I live by is that intent is not magical. Just because the author says so-and-so element of his/her novel is not problematic doesn’t mean it’s not problematic.
I may feel bad for her because she has normalized and possibly romanticized the traits of an unhealthy relationship in her mind, but I will continue to be critical of her novel and the ideas it perpetuates. The media she grew up with didn’t take on its social responsibility, but I think the media she has produced must take on its social responsibility. When there are teenage girls saying they unironically love Travis and they want a boyfriend just like him, that is a problem. Books really can shape a person’s romantic ideals. God knows they shaped mine when I got into reading at age thirteen (and thank goodness I found books that made me realize the romantic ideals I had for nearly three years were traits of unhealthy relationships).
If anyone thinks I’m being a jealous hater, I really don’t care. In that case, I will take my delicious cherry-flavored haterade, sit out by the pool with my sunglasses and a stack of books that don’t normalize/glorify rape culture and domestic abuse, and keep on truckin’. A media critic’s work is never done, especially when her concentration is YA novels.