by Molly McAdams, contemporary (2012)
Molly McAdams, $2.99, ISBN 978-1-59578-965-5
Someone once asked me what constitutes pornography for young ladies - teenagers, in other words. I can only say from my own experience as a teenager once upon a time that it's not pictures of naked hot guys, although those are always nice, but instead, a more complicated kind of fantasy, where these hot guys pretty much bend over and let her step all over them. She will always be beautiful, the center of everyone's attention, and she is allowed to do anything her heart desires without having to pay the price, In fact, she'd be loved for whatever she does, regardless of how her actions may affect the others around her. Everything is about this beautiful entity called Me, everyone loves Me, everyone lets Me do whatever Me wants, Me, Me, Me.
And when a story captures that fantasy so well, then the author had it made. This is the reason for Molly McAdams's Taking Chances hitting the bestseller lists mostly on what seems like word of mouth, I suspect. This is a love triangle story, of a young lady who has two men vying for her affections, and she is allowed to be as selfish and reckless with their feelings as she wishes without facing any repercussions. This is the perfect kind of pornography for young ladies.
So here we are. Meet 18-year old Harper who heads off to San Diego State University. She has no problems becoming the center of attention soon enough. She's a sparkly princess from Planet Me, after all. Mortals are unable to resist adoring her. Before long, she's torn between Chase, her roommate's tattoo-ed bad boy brother who does underground fighting in order to get all those hot muscles, and Brandon, Chase's roommate who is also a fighter but he is the sweeter and clean-cut alternative. Soon, it's a classic case of Bad Boy versus (in this case, comparatively) Nice Boy - how is a woman supposed to choose?
Well, who needs to choose when you're from Planet Me? And that's what happens here, as Harper has her cake, eat it too, and then leave the crumbs around for her adoring worshipers to clean up before demanding for more cake.
This story is not realistic, but I guess that's just the point. For mere students, these kids sure seem loaded. Chase has a trust fund, Brandon owns and runs a gym with well-paid staff and all, and Harper has no problems buying stuff and doing things that should be out of the means of a real student in her shoes. But does it matter? Very little in this story feels real. I'm surprised to learn that Ms McAdams is an adult with husbands and kids, because for a long time, I thought this book was the product of an imaginative teenage girl who learned all about love from episodes of Gossip Girl and The Vampire Diaries. That's how deep the love is here, with all those constantly crying boys who are always understanding and forgiving when it comes to the crap the heroine flings at their faces.
A bigger problem with Taking Chances, however, is the writing. It's too vapid for me, and often I feel as if I'm reading the rambling of some teenage girl in a blog. The author doesn't even bother to pretend that she is not setting Harper up to be the most special darling in the universe.
"Where's your mom?"
Her hand flew to her mouth, her eyes wide. "I'm so sorry! I had no idea!"
"Don't worry about it," I waved her apology off, "I never knew her."
She simply nodded.
"I know my dad though, this is just the first time I've ever been away from him, and I think he's worried. Now that he knows I'm alive, I probably won't hear from him again for a while."
Breanna still wasn't talking. This happened every time I told someone I didn't have a mom. Instead of trying to tell her not to worry about it again, I got up and got dressed for the party. Thankfully, my thick auburn hair was already naturally straight so I was ready in no time. Grabbing my purse, I turned to see Breanna's horrified expression.
Everyone around Harper has exaggerated concerned or shocked reactions to her. Such as in the example above, where Brenna behaves as if Harper is the only person who never knew her mother and that is such a terrible, terrible thing for Harper to go through. Also, everyone around Harper dotes on her, and when she leaves for college, it's all about her father being worried that she's gone and her friends messaging her and begging her not to leave. Yes, what will people do without Harper in their lives?
"Is that what you're going in?"
Shrugging, I looked down to my long jean shorts and black and gold infantry shirt. "Yes?"
"Oh no." she was now looking in my wardrobe, checking all my clothes. "Okay you and I are both a size two, how tall are you?"
"Five feet two." Yes, I know. I'm incredibly short.
"Just barely shorter than me...hmm. Okay come on, we're going to my place to get you changed."
"Is there something wrong with this?"
She raised one perfectly shaped blonde eyebrow at me, her blue eyes narrowed, "Let's just say I'm going to throw out your entire wardrobe and take you shopping tomorrow, because we obviously don't have time tonight. I'm guessing we have to get some make-up while we're at it?"
I nodded. To be honest, I'd never felt like I'd needed make-up. Not saying that I think I'm really attractive or anything, just never saw the need. I'd been blessed with a smooth complexion and had wide gray eyes hidden behind long dark lashes. I always thought anything else would have been too much. Plus, I'm sure Sir would've had a fit if I'd ever bought any.
Ah yes, the classic "I exaggerate all my shortcomings when in truth, everyone loves me, all the boys want me, and all the girls want to be me" spin, liberally applied on Harper. Thankfully, that didn't last one. Once Breanna gives Harper a slutty make-over, Harper realizes that she is hot stuff with massive cleavage and all, and she's like, "Wow! I'm so hot! It's amazing!" Oh please, darling. At any rate, it's not long before even the biggest male sluts in campus are panting after Harper because she's hot, she's supposedly witty (not that I see any trace of that here), and she's also a virgin.
Unless the title of this story is a play - and spoiler - on whom Harper eventually gifts her virginity to (hey, don't look at me, the author spoiled this when she came up with that title), it's grossly inaccurate, as Harper doesn't really do anything here. Okay, let me correct that. She does do things - stupid things that move the story in painfully stupid ways, such as this supposedly intelligent lass insisting on having sex with condoms. Harper doesn't do things like controlling her impulses - hence the painful stringing along of the two boys in her lives - and being forced to make a decision even when she absolutely has to. She just goes along with things, acting like the most selfish bint in the universe, and eventually, it is fate (or deliberate attempt at creating a tearjerker climax, in this case) that has things falling into place nicely for her. And she's loved for all her lying, cheating, obfuscation, inaction, and rampant stupidity - celebrated for all that, in fact, in a happy ending that has practically everyone else falling onto their knees and worshiping her awesomeness.
This lack of awareness on the author's part of Harper being a stupid, selfish twit is the biggest obstacle to my enjoyment of this story. If Harper has owned to being one, I might have had a better time reading the story. If the author had given Harper some reasons for being what she is, perhaps I can come up with some empathy for Harper's continuous inability to make any decision about her life. If Ms McAdams had given Harper some character evolution instead of delivering over 300 pages of insipid "how the world adores Harper and takes all her crap with a big smile on the face" nonsense, I may have a reason to care for her happy ending.
Ultimately, Taking Chances is a badly-written book with plenty of vapid platitudes passed off as emotions of a lifetime. But that puts it at the same level as a terrible soap opera - on a fundamental level, I can see the appeal of this story. But unlike a soap opera where I can turn off the audio and just enjoy the view, I have no such option here. I have to sit through every insipid adjective used to describe the lead characters, every cringe-inducing misfire at humor, every misplaced comma, and more, and for what? To read about a heroine who gets her happy ending despite her best efforts to ruin the lives of the two boys who inexplicably remain doggedly devoted to her even after she's lied to them and cheated on them. And the worst thing is, she does all these things to them not because she wants to, but because she can't help herself. Harper just can't do anything right here, and that's my biggest peeve about this story. If this is a wish-fulfillment story, it doesn't work for me because being Princess Harper of Me ranks below becoming Christian Grey's shrink in my list of preferred lifelong vocations.
Mary Sue stories from Planet Me could be entertaining guilty pleasures - something that VC Andrews and EL James had demonstrated - but Molly McAdams's execution of this story is bungled from the start. Taking Chances is a low-tier wannabe in an increasing deluge of Princess Me and Her Two Paramours stories in the young adult market at the moment.
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