How many times has the suggestion “If you liked that, then you’ll love this” been targeted to the eager readers who devoured E. L. James’s Fifty Shades of Grey trilogy in recent months?
Two novels out now have made major headway in book sales because of this very method of exposure: Bared to You by Sylvia Day and, more recently, Beautiful Disaster by Jamie McGuire. Having read each of the novels, there are some obvious commonalities, yet as a whole, each story is quite different from the others. With content ranging from youthful billionaires to BDSM to tattooed, underground boxing college students, it may appear that the three titles, in fact, share little besides the colors on their covers.
Initially, any similarities could be quickly dismissed between Beautiful Disaster and the other two novels because of its lack of a twenty-something, obnoxiously wealthy male lead. But all of these heroes have similar backstory: each of them has been through (many) relationships without one ever really sticking, until they meet the female lead, of course, and they are somehow persuaded to give up skirt-chasing forever. They also share other disturbing proclivities, including the need to possess said love interest, to the point of obsession and “co-dependency,” not to mention falling apart at the idea of losing the girl (which, in fact, they all do at some point or other). There is a fine line between a connection and an obsession, each of which Christian Grey, Gideon Cross, and Travis Maddox teeters on constantly.
There could also be something in the nature of the damaged characters in each novel; both James’s and Day’s books are focused on the male leads suffering major mental and/or physical afflictions from their respective pasts. In McGuire’s book, it’s obvious the male protagonist is insanely hot tempered and has total apathy towards members of the opposite sex. He is emotionally stunted, due to losing his mother at a young age. But it’s McGuire’s heroine, Abby Abernathy, who has much more reason to be concerned about her past coming to light. It’s actually interesting to see how the author quietly hints at Abby’s upbringing through the beginning of the novel. The reader tends to be so focused (at least this reader was) on Travis, the larger than life college playboy, who comes across as sweet at times, and a downright asshole at others, that when Abby’s truths come out, it’s like “Whoa! Where did that come from?”
That’s not to say that Abby is the only female with issues. Bared to You’s Eva is a total work in progress also. Having been sexually abused in her past, she is working hard to reclaim her own life, despite the best efforts of her mother to smother her at every turn. While the men take the cake for their supercilious demeanors, the ladies hold their own when it comes to taking center stage in all of the dramas.
Further parallels appear in all three novels as each story is told in first-person narrative, through the perspective of the female lead. This seemed an appropriate choice in all of them, as it highlights each characters’ abilities to completely delude themselves into believing that they could/would hold out their emotions from the men chasing them. Each of these women only manages to succeed for so long before completely giving in to the temptation or sheer overpowering will of their male counterparts. The women all share the susceptibility to full-on self-denial. Then again, it could be argued that this is a universal human foible. Whatever the case, a good portion of each tale is led by the resistance at least attempted by the females.
Once they’re together, the concept that each of the couples understand is that love is not just a simple thing; you don’t just find it and live happily ever after, as much as we all wish we could. As deluded as they are about many facets of their relationships, they all come to realize that it will take hard work to make a success of their endeavors. The characters may be able to wax poetic about a mutual ownership, much like Abby says here,
When we met, something inside both of us had changed and whatever that was it made us need each other. For reasons unknown to me, I was his exception, and as much as I had tried to fight my feelings, he was mine.
but fortunately, this doe-eyed sentiment is offset by the harsh realities of “real” life. This brings each of the books from the brink of nauseatingly sweet romance to the more realistic, conflicting, ideas or emotions present in either an epic love story or a disaster waiting to happen.
The stories are differentiated by the age group featured. Both Fifty Shades of Grey and Bared to You feature twentysomethings making their way in the world, having been through decided difficulties, and discovering the nuances of adult life. Beautiful Disaster, on the other hand, relates more to first year college students and thus includes the typical partying, tests, frat BS, etc. that accompanies the student set. It could arguably be considered a “new adult” book in this regard, where it’s not quite that innocent, quick read of a YA novel, but also not entirely mature enough to be considered a ‘grown-up’ read. There is sexual content, but none of the BDSM, Dom/Sub subject matter that the others either feature or hint at as upcoming in further books. This facet alone may detract from the story for many readers because it’s a little less relatable.
Reading enjoyment is such a subjective matter, biased by previous reading material, personal moods, and a myriad of other external factors. So, will fans of E.L. James enjoy reading Beautiful Disaster? Or can McGuire and James’s works truly be compared to the damaged players found in Bared to You? There isn’t really a simple answer to that question. They all offer something different and approach their tales in varying styles. The ultimate deciding factor will come from readers’ tastes. Bared to You has a few very mentally unstable characters which may appeal to fans of psychologically intense dramas. Fifty Shades of Grey is more of a light read, with some sad moments from Christian’s past. Despite those hardships, it’s also the most humorous of the three. Beautiful Disaster comes across with a curious melange of Hollywood movies, such as 21, Fight Club, and Twilight. Whether you like any or all of these elements, each of the books has unique elements that distinguish it from the others.
Jackie Lester imagines a day when she can make a living as a writer. Until then, she reviews eclectic books at My Ever Expanding Library and lives in small-town Ontario with her daughter.