Dare You ToDare You To by Katie McGarry
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

What a rollercoaster ride Katie McGarry’s “Dare You To” turned out to be. When all is said and done, I liked this book quite a bit. Yet, I think like its predecessor “Pushing the Limits,” this book left me with mixed feelings on how to rate it. When McGarry’s prose is on-point, it’s extremely done well with respect to the character intimacies, grief, and conflicts to be had. I love the way she’s able to address the weight of grief her characters go through. Unfortunately, I think “Dare You To” suffers from not streamlining the prose and establishing more realistic character motivations.

If you can get the audiobook version, please do so – Christopher Gebauer and Brittany Presley do an excellent job in narrating the voices of Ryan and Beth respectively.

Beth (Elizabeth) is in a tough spell. It’s bad enough that Beth and her mother are abused by Trent, her mother’s boyfriend, but with one wrong turn of events in a night, Beth’s shipped away from her mother to live with Scott, her famous baseball player uncle, who was once like a father to her. Beth wants desperately to return to her mother, but finds herself facing a life that she thinks she can’t belong to.

Ryan is a boy who thinks he has his life all planned out and, in his words, he “never loses.” His encounter with Beth at a Taco place is by chance and by a dare that inflates his ego, but he realizes that Beth poses a challenge for him – a humiliating one at that. His and her circles collide in more ways than one, and ultimately, both of them have to face a lot of difficult choices and rough patches, while at the same time finding their bonds more close than either of them realize.

I do have to give it to McGarry for writing the voices of the teens in this book very well. I found Beth and Ryan’s voices authentic enough, and their struggles really hit home with me. However…it’s quite a bit of unfolding drama and so much to take in at times. I’ll admit this book hooked me, but it emotionally exhausted me as well – in good and bad ways. I’m not saying it lacks realism. Oh no, this book shoves many difficult measures in one’s face and doesn’t pull punches. Everything from a older brother leaving home because his parents won’t accept his sexual identity and the younger brother feels left in the cold to pick up the pieces of his damaged family, to a drug-addicted parent who can’t take care of themselves, to domestic abuse and poverty. It even tackles how one can find that their picture perfect life doesn’t mesh with the talents and goals that one really has for themselves. However, you would think with all of that, some of the character’s motivations and rationales would come more central with their coming to terms.

That is not always the case. The characters sometimes act in ways that make absolutely no sense whatsoever in the context of the story, often to the point where the decision is made just to further the plot conflict. I could understand more if it was on the part of their naivete or stubbornness (and trust me, Ryan and Beth are both VERY stubborn and hard to follow in points). But I could tell when a plot point would come up just on the basis of the character action and I’m thinking “There’s no plausible reason why the character should’ve made that decision in the context of this scene.” And where you would think a reason would come up in the character’s mind, there’s not one to be had in the immediate context or beyond. I get that Beth didn’t want to sell her mother out for complications that would involve Trent, but to lie to the police when she had the opportunity to put the jerk away based on the evidence they already built against him? It just didn’t click with me. I wasn’t convinced. I also wasn’t convinced of the shallow blackmailing that Scott does to Beth to get her to stay in town. He might’ve been trying to get her away from the life that she was leaving behind, but using Beth’s mother as leverage didn’t sit right with me either. I think as the story went on from its shaky beginnings, the plot details smoothed out, but it was a hard sell. I’m not surprised quite a few people in my reading circles dropped this because the beginning was a slog and hard to buy.

I could go into the stereotyping that’s in this novel – with the girl on the wrong side of the tracks meeting the “golden” boy, but I just followed it to see where it would end up. The stereotyping’s as heavy here as much as the dramatic contexts. For me, I think those are what kept this from being a 4 or 5 star read for me. I could get on board with the better parts of the narrative where McGarry’s writing is beautifully intimate, but at the same time bang my head against the wall because it can be either too much in one spell, or not have enough substantiated weight in the backing of the conflict.

In the end, I found it worth the read and I would recommend it for its respective audience (and certainly for fans of “Pushing the Limits”), but it has rather heavy caveats.

Overall score: 3/5

Note: I received this as an ARC from NetGalley, from the publisher Harlequin Teen.

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