{Review} TAKE ME ON by Katie McGarry

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Check out my reviews of Katie McGarry's  

You can also see my review of Katie McGarry's  
CROSSING THE LINE, a novella that comes free
with your copy of TAKE ME ON!
O P E N I N G   H O O K:

    A DOOR SQUEAKS OPEN AT THE FAR END of the barren hallway and the clicking of high heels echoes off the row of metal post-office boxes.  I attempt to appear casual as I flip through the mail. All of it leftovers from our previous life: my brother's mixed martial arts magazine, an American Girl doll catalog for my sister, another seed and gardening catalog for my mother.
    Collection notices for my father.
    There are more demands for payment. I wonder if I should give them to dad or hand them off to my mother or grandfather. Maybe I should save us all from the reminder and set them on fire. It's not like there won't be a fresh batch tomorrow.
    I juggle a few pieces to keep all of it from falling onto the floor. Beyond the windows, the sky darkens into dusk. I inhale deeply to calm the nervous adrenaline flooding my veins. Too much to do, not enough time: the mail, the grocery list from my aunt, convince the grandfather who hates me to write me a letter of recommendation, dropping off and picking up my father's antianxiety medication. It's Friday night and I've got two hours to make my uncle's curfew or I'll be spending the night on the streets.
(page 7, nook e-book edition)

When Katie McGarry announced that her new book would feature Wes, the brother of the heroine from CRASH INTO YOU, many readers were upset. In CRASH INTO YOU, McGarry hinted at a relationship between Rachel's brother Ethan and her best friend Abby (But Abby is back in TAKE ME ON, and gets quite a bit of page time! I'm sure we'll see her in her own novel soon!). Wes was the mess-up, the jerk. I personally was looking forward to reading his story and seeing what happened after the events that concluded CRASH INTO YOU. While you can read this as a stand-alone--and it is a stand-alone--if you're ever planning to read CRASH INTO YOU, read that one first. Just because there is major stuff that happens and TAKE ME ON spoils so much of that. At the same time, it made me want to go back and re-read CRASH INTO YOU and re-experience all the feels.

Wes has a lot of problems. He's done a lot of things wrong and his family hates him for it. When he's expelled for fighting at school, his father is finally so fed up that he kicks Wes out. Wes is alone and living in his car. Can life get any worse? When he saves a girl named Haley from being jumped in the streets, his life changes in many unexpected ways. Haley, on the other hand, isn't exactly grateful for Wes helping her out. She can defend herself and holds a National Title. When her ex-boyfriend's brother jumps her and steals her father's medicine, her ex gets on her case...until Wes steps in and agrees to fight MMA-style...cage and all. So now Haley has two months to train Wes to fight a guy who has been training all his life. While Wes and Haley come from different walks of life, once their paths cross, they can only be strongest when they're together.

One of the most interesting things about a McGarry novel is the fact that she doesn't flinch from the hard realities many teens face, ones that are buried and never discussed. Haley used to be homeless. Her dad lost his job, their house went into foreclosure, and the whole family had to live in a shelter. I haven't read a book before featuring a character in this situation. When we see homeless people, they're portrayed as begging for money/food/etc, and the truth behind what brought them to that moment is often overlooked. And a homeless teenager who isn't a runaway? Forget about it. I think Haley's situation is important and will really resonate with teens who have experienced that type of lifestyle. They can also relate to Wes, who has been kicked out and is living in his car...during the winter when temperatures go below freezing. These threads of the story are about life and survival and making the best of a bad situation. That is the heart and soul of a Katie McGarry novel. And I feel ashamed, because at times when I read this, I sort of wished every character wasn't going through a major, gritty situation, because that happens with every character in every book of hers. At the same time, it's so important to feature these types of characters, and McGarry is exactly the right writer for the job. She makes you care about these people and want them to overcome everything and be happy. 

Another thing I really liked about TAKE ME ON...and this is spoilery, so you should stop reading this particular paragraph now if you don't want to be spoiled at all. What I really liked is that there is a big role reversal going on. Haley is the strong one, the fighter. Not Wes. She's more experienced than him in other ways, too. I just want to point out that it's completely awesome to feature that kind of dynamic, because a guy isn't always stronger, faster, smarter, everything than a girl. But male characters are frequently portrayed in this way. I really enjoyed the role reversal. Wes is strong. He is a lot of things. But Haley comes out on top in many categories, and I think that's so cool.

I continue to enjoy reading McGarry's novels. They have a lot of heart and soul, and characters you can really care about. You might not always like a character and his or her actions, but you also understand and still embrace the flaws. McGarry's writing is only getting stronger, too. She listened when a lot of readers complained about the many pet names characters use for one another and eliminated them this time around. I was a huge fan of that change. She also isn't a one-trick pony, and each book manages to integrate new, realistic situations that many teens face that are never explored. She also talks about how to get help in a completely non-preachy way that can only help teens going through the same things with no one to talk to about it. There's no one quite like her in the YA contemporary market right now.

Content Ratings: highlight between ( ) for details

Romance: PG15 ( sexual content; nothing explicit )
Language: PG13 
Violence: PG13 ( Haley gets jumped, and there's a lot of fighting. Nothing overly graphic )
Other: PG13 ( Mentions of drugs and drug dealers; verbal [family] abuse )
C O V E R   D E S I G N:

This cover would, again, not make me take any particular notice. But only because I'm me and I tend to overlook many contemporary covers. I think the cover will actually appeal to many people. I like that it has boxing featured on the cover, highlighting a bit of the story. It stands out and is different. Although the model portraying Haley is less muscular than she would really be, but that's often an issue with books featuring female atheletes. 

The thing I always love best about Katie McGarry's covers is that when you take them off and make the book naked, there's a second cover hiding for you to find! It's a different pose featuring the same scene, and feels shiny and sleek, not papery like most bookboards. Since I read this one as an ARC, I'll be interested in seeing the secret surprise cover when I get a final copy!
O F F I C I A L   I N F O:

Author: Katie McGarry
Publisher: Harlequin Teen
Release Date: May 27, 2014
Received: For Review

Acclaimed author Katie McGarry returns with the knockout new story of two high school seniors who are about to learn what winning really means.  

Champion kickboxer Haley swore she'd never set foot in the ring again after one tragic night. But then the guy she can't stop thinking about accepts a mixed martial arts fight in her honor. Suddenly, Haley has to train West Young. All attitude, West is everything Haley promised herself she'd stay away from. Yet he won't last five seconds in the ring without her help.  

West is keeping a big secret from Haley. About who he really is. But helping her-fighting for her-is a shot at redemption. Especially since it's his fault his family is falling apart. He can't change the past, but maybe he can change Haley's future.  

Hayley and West have agreed to keep their relationship strictly in the ring. But as an unexpected bond forms between them and attraction mocks their best intentions, they'll face their darkest fears and discover love is worth fighting for.


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