By Sarina Bowen.
Previous book here.
"Yesterday morning? I was a stand-up guy, trying to do right by his girlfriend. Twenty-four hours later I was just some jerk who'd taken off his clothes for the first person who smiled at him."
This Dear Author review is so good I feel like I can't say anything better than this. But I'll try... I will first issue a trigger warning that this book deals with the topic of slut shaming, so those who freak out at that sort of thing may want to avoid it. However, this book is excellent at handling the subject matter, so you may want to suck it up and read it anyway.
Anyway: it's a new school year from the previous books,, Hartley's graduated but Corey and Scarlet are still around in cameos, Bridger's nowhere to be seen, Graham and Rikker are happy. Bella, who was introduced in the most recent book, is starting her senior year and she's kind of at a loss as to what to do after graduation. But she's always looking for a few good hookups, whether they're on the hockey team or no. Bella doesn't really believe in relationships, but she is totally down with fuckbuddying--she tends to make friend with dudes by sleeping with them and then befriending them afterwards. She's aware of what kind of reputation she might have/is risking, but in general, she's cool with what she does. Everyone's consenting and using protection and she doesn't go after taken dudes. What's wrong with that? Nothing--though Bella's suitemate* Lianne sounds like she gets annoyed at hearing all of the sex sounds coming out of Bella's room a lot. Well, who wouldn't.
* in this context, both girls have single bedrooms but share a bathroom with no sound insulation.
Then there's Rafe, Bella's 20-year-old neighbor in Beaumont House. Rafe was raised a good Catholic boy who needs to be responsible about sex, and would never push a girl into boning. He's a virgin and he's been patiently waiting for his girlfriend Alison to be ready for sex. Finally, it's their mutual birthday and she's given the go sign. He's made reservations, he's got a nice suit, he's got wine, he's got condoms.... but unfortunately, what he doesn't have is Alison because when he shows up at her door, he finds another dude in there that Alison apparently lost her virginity to while she was in Ecuador. A devastated Gabe can't go back to his room because his roommates are getting it on, so he's out in the hall with his wine bottle when Bella comes in. Gabe tells his story, Bella is incredibly sympathetic and tells him her own embarrassing story about walking in on Graham and Rikker once upon a time, they drink, and they get down with their bad selves and have a very, very good time. (Though no, Bella doesn't know it was Gabe's first time.) However, Gabe wakes up the next morning and feels weird and bad about losing his virginity outside of a formal committed relationship and doesn't know how to behave around Bella for awhile. Bella reasonably assumes Gabe must be some kind of a "shamer" and moves on, eventually boinking a Beta Rho frat brother named Whittaker when she's lonely one night.
That is a move she ends up regretting forever. Not only does she come down with an STI, breaking the news to Whittaker in person down at his frat house turned out to be a terrible idea--because he has someone get her a drink, and next thing she knows she wakes up at the frat house, feeling terrible and is covered in nasty words written in permanent marker. And Gabe finds her in that condition when he takes his morning run by the frat house.
Oh, poor Bella. And of course, they took photos and posted them online. After that experience, Bella feels way too ashamed to even leave her room, and she certainly can't stand to go among her hockey friends or show up to her beloved job, which she eventually loses. Graham and Rikker will totally be there for her if she lets them, but she feels so bad she's generally ignoring phone contact and declining invites for pizza. (I do concur with the Dear Reader review that it's a little weird to have all these guys who care about Bella mostly AWOL so that Rafe is the only one she can depend on, but I can understand her logic at wanting to stay away from jock culture under these circumstances.) But Rafe and Lianne, who were there when Bella came home after the incident, are worried about her and do their best to take care of her, get her out of the house, etc. Gabe, Bella, Alison, and some random girl are also working on an intense redesign project for their Urban Studies class, which is both distracting and interesting to Bella.
Bella has other issues too with her family in this one--her brother-in-law is an amazing skeezebucket and the rest of the family is on his side, which makes it terrible for her to have to be around them after her sister wins a major award. She brings Gabe as her date and he is just charming and a good dancer and sweet and awesome and handles everything with aplomb. Might I just say how super impressive Rafe is as a person? He's up there with Jason Vanderholt in being EXCELLENT at relationships and how to handle them. He's super sweet and supportive and nice and quotes chick movies with no shame. Plus his swearing in Spanish (and affectionate nickname for Bella, belleza) is just so adorable. Sure beats the "chingo tu madre" shit I hear out of dudes in real life :P Bella may not like the idea of having an official boyfriend, but Rafe won't settle for less, and even Lianne thinks they're inevitable.
"Oh, this guy! How any girl could cheat on him was beyond me. You had to wonder if the girl also kicked puppies just for fun."
And while I'm at it, I must talk about Lianne, who starts out as "the grumpy girl who won't leave her room and is probably thinking bad things about Bella" to turning out to be a cool person. She is actually a famous actress--hence why she doesn't leave her room--and spends a lot of time on the computer, having learned hacking skills. She and Bella become friends and even leave their rooms together, which is lovely. And they have an epic teamup when they have a great idea on how to get public, anonymous revenge on the brothers of Beta Rho. Which is delightful. It's entirely reasonable why Bella knows that going to the cops isn't an option due to her bad reputation, frat houses, public shaming, etc., so it's great that she figures out another way to point out their public assholery in such a way as to warn other girls and have it hit the media. At the end, the author mentioned that Lianne needs a book, and I TOTALLY agree and look forward to it. It sounds like she has some interesting issues of her own with a controlling manager, so I think Bella's a good influence on her. And when Lianne finally starts playing sexy music every time Rafe and Bella are together...that's adorable. And also totally something I did back in the day.
But other than obvious bad guy Whittaker, anyone who starts out as "bad" in this book has hidden depths. Alison turns out to have her own issues that make it more understandable why she behaved in the way that she did with Rafe, and another person who does something bad early on has a crisis of conscience towards the end of the book that makes you think a lot better of them.
Four stars. Excellent job, excellent loving read.