REVIEW: The Dare by Elle Kennedy
Dear Ms. Kennedy:
This is the fourth and final book in the Briar U series; this series itself is an offshoot of the Off-Campus series set at the same fictional Ivy-ish university. This one pairs hockey-player and manwhore Conor Edwards with Taylor Marsh, an insecure sorority sister with lifelong body-image issues. (I feel like they’re all manwhores but in retrospect, in this series at least, Conor probably fits the bill the best.)
Taylor’s presence at the Kappa Chi sorority party is mandatory, and she’s just thinking of an exit strategy when her nemesis challenges her to a game of Dare or Dare, which is just what it sounds like; basically you’re given a dare and you have to do it. (God, save me from ever caring that much of what people think of me again.) The dare: seduce Conor Edwards, “the hottest new guy in the junior class.”
Taylor doesn’t want to, of course. She is shy and insecure and doesn’t believe for a second that a hottie like Conor would look at her twice. But, the game must (apparently) go on, so she runs up to him, whispers a panicked plea in his ear, and somehow wrangles a bemused but amused Conor into an empty upstairs bedroom. There she explains her dilemma to Conor – she has to appear to fulfill the terms of the dare, but she doesn’t actually want to have sex with him. Conor, more or less on a lark, goes along with it with alacrity, and the two end up putting on a performance for those listening outside the door, replete with lusty moans and x-rated language.
Afterward, they talk, flirt (Conor wants to “fool around” but Taylor is firmly convinced that he’s…just being nice? and couldn’t possibly want her; it’s a theme that gets a work-out in this book) and eventually fall asleep together.
From there it’s a fake-relationship story with probably as good justification for the fake relationship as most stories featuring this trope have. Conor pursues it more or less for fun – he likes messing with the mean girls of Taylor’s sorority and he likes Taylor (he wouldn’t mind getting in her pants, as well). Also, there’s the suggestion that he’s tired of being a notch on quite so many Briar girls’ bedposts. Sure, rampart promiscuity has been fun, but it bugs him that the girls don’t even seem interested in him as a person (I probably found this plot point a little more amusing than I should have). For Taylor’s part, she does like the attention she gets from Conor, she likes him, they have fun together, and keeping the aforementioned mean girls at bay has its advantages as well.
All this is to say that the fake boyfriend/girlfriend trope worked fairly well for me here, maybe because the characters were younger and the whole thing started rather light and fun, as opposed to “heroine has to find a guy to bring to her sister’s wedding to her own ex-fiance, so she doesn’t seem pathetic” which is a plotline I’m relatively sure I’ve read (maybe more than once).
But of course, both Taylor and Conor have Issues. Taylor’s is her self-perception as an ugly duckling (she only joined the sorority in the hopes that her college life would be more glamorous and sociable than her high-school one; it’s a thin explain for why she puts up with a fair amount of humiliation during her time there). She was raised by a tall, slender and beautiful single mother (who is also a brilliant professor), and Taylor has struggled with her weight and the horror of having a not beautiful but merely “cute” face. She hasn’t had much experience with men and tends to think that any boy talking to her is only interested in her big boobs.
Conor has just transferred to Briar in this, his junior year. His blond, California-surfer-dude façade hides a slightly more complicated reality. Conor also grew up with a single mother, but they were poor; his mom worked as a hairdresser and Conor grew up running around with a rough crowd. His life changed when his mother met and married a wealthy man (Conor’s stepfather pulled strings to get him into Briar, his own alma mater). Conor struggles with secret feelings of inadequacy. In his own way, he feels like an outsider as much as Taylor does, but he does a much better job of covering it up. (Being Greek-god-handsome and good enough at ice hockey to play on a competitive college team certainly help.)
It’s fun watching Conor and Taylor get to know each other and *like* each other, in addition to the attraction they feel. Both this and the previous book in this series, The Play, have featured really strong friendships between the hero and heroine, and it’s been nice to read about.
But of course there has to be conflict; in this case the first big issue is not, surprisingly, Taylor’s raging insecurity (that remains at a simmer in the background throughout the book, though). Rather it’s a “friend” from Conor’s past who turns up, harboring a secret Conor is ashamed of, and pushing him to make some bad choices. Conor acts dumb here, and I never quite bought his sense of unworthiness the way I did Taylor’s (maybe because I saw him as Taylor did – someone so handsome and charming that life could never be *too* bad for him). But after messing up, he does at least grovel satisfyingly.
Taylor’s own breakdown is precipitated by a revenge porn (well, sort of ) subplot that felt a little tacked on but did end up catalyzing a change in her, which was welcome. I probably had less patience with Taylor’s insecurity than she maybe deserved – perhaps the memory of being not pretty enough, thin enough, cool enough, etc. hit too close to home. Reading new adult books can make me nostalgic, impatient for the characters to grow, and/or grateful that I’m old enough not to give a shit about things that aren’t important, in turn.
This was probably between a B and a B+ for me – I think I liked the first book in the series the best, because I liked the heroine so much. But this was very readable (they all are, which is why I keep returning to NA hockey books even though they don’t break a lot of new ground), so a low B+ it is.
I know the series is over but I still wouldn’t mind more books set at Briar in the future!