ETA April 2015: At the time I accepted/read the book and wrote the review, I didn’t know Jen Frederick was also Jane Litte from Dear Author. No Jen Frederick books have been reviewed by me, anywhere, since I became aware of this and, given my existing relationship with Jane, I will not be reviewing any more of her books. I will continue to update my personal Goodreads account with all the books I read as per usual but, consistent with my review policy, there won’t be further formal reviews of Jen Frederick’s work.
What it’s about: (from Goodreads) Whore. Slut. Typhoid Mary.
I’ve been called all these at Central College. One drunken night, one act of irresponsible behavior, and my reputation was ruined. Guys labeled me as easy and girls shied away. To cope, I stayed away from Central social life and away from Central men, so why is it that my new biology lab partner is so irresistible to me?
He’s everything I shouldn’t want. A former Marine involved in illegal fighting with a quick trigger temper and an easy smile for all the women. His fists aren’t the danger to me, though, it’s his charm. He’s sliding his way into my heart and I’m afraid that he’s going to be the one to break me.
Impulsive. Unthinking. Hot tempered.
I allow instinct to rule my behavior. If it feels good, do it, has been my motto because if I spend too much time thinking, I’ll begin to remember exactly where I came from. At Central College, I’ve got fighting and I’ve got women and I thought I was satisfied until I met her.
She’s everything I didn’t realize I wanted and the more time I spend with her, the more I want her. But she’s been hurt too much in the past and I don’t want to be the one to break her. I know I should walk away, but I just can’t.
What worked for me (and what didn’t): After reading the first book in the series, Undeclared, I was keen to see what the author would come up with next. The first book was a bit of a mixed bag for me but I certainly wanted to keep reading the series. This one was for me, a much stronger book. The plotting was tighter and more cohesive and there were barely any errors or typos. There were more of the things I liked in the first book (much more) and less of the things I didn’t like (much less). If the first book was a bit of a mixed bag, this book was a bag of goodness.
AnnMarie (AM to her friends) West is a college sophomore. Very early in her college career, she had a drunken hookup with a lacrosse player and for shitty but entirely believable reasons, the next thing she knew college gossip had her sleeping with the entire lacrosse team and being labelled as a disease-ridden sure thing for any guy who cared to try. She was gossiped about, groped, maligned and harassed to the point she moved out of the dorms to an apartment and avoided any campus activity except to go to class (- even then, she did her best to never make eye contact with anyone). Her BFF Ellie is her only college supporter, but she also has friends in their next door neighbours, Sasha and her roommate Brian.
I loved AM’s friendship with Ellie especially. Ellie had her own personality and wasn’t there just there just to be a sidekick. Even Sasha and Brian, though their parts were smaller in the story, felt fairly well rounded to me.
Bo Randolph is Noah’s (from Undeclared) best friend. They grew up together, served in the Marines together and now they are at Central College together. Bo is a bit of a
ladies man manwhore. I liked the juxtaposition of Bo’s actual sexual past (which included the entire high school drill team) and AM’s alleged sexual past. I liked that the book overtly called out the double standard of slut shaming girls and I liked that it even went further and explicitly stated that even if a girl did have many sexual partners, it did not have relevance to her worth as a person. Like Noah in the earlier book, Bo has a protective streak a mile wide. While he has slept around, he didn’t make promises to anyone and the sex was alwasy consensual. When Bo and AM share a biology class and are paired as lab partners, Bo decides it’s time to act on the attraction he felt since he first saw AM the semester before. He quickly scopes out the situation and realises that AM is not a girl he should have a one-nighter with – apart from that his interest is much deeper, he realises that would only hurt her. He actually takes some time to consider what he wants from her and whether he can be worth it for her to date him. So it was a very deliberate decision to pursue a relationship and Bo was pretty much all in from the start.
I’m going to make it so good for you,” he promised.
“You better. All those stories you’ve told and I’ve been told about you— they’re giving me big expectations,” I sassed.
“They were all practice for the real thing. You.”
“That’s a pretty good line,” I told him, uncertainty creeping in again.
“I’m going to tell you something.” Bo reassured me, as if sensing I was tottering on the edge again. “I’m scared, too, but neither of us are going to get what we want if we don’t take a chance.”
To add extra icing on the cake, Bo doesn’t care if the rumors are true about AM even at the same time as he recognises that they most probably aren’t. He doesn’t hold her to a higher standard than himself and he actually was a bit of a dog – people in glasshouses etc.
“I’m not going to lie to you, AM, so yeah, I’ve had my share of hookups. All the girls I’ve been with have wanted the same thing that I was looking for— a temporary hit off the endorphin bong. I’m pretty sure that’s not going to be enough for me anymore. Not since I’ve met you.
An extra bonus is that even though, when AM and Bo do get together the sex is pretty amazing, it isnt’ the first good sex of AM’s life. Hooray!!
After my less-than-stellar first time here at Central, I’d tried out two more guys. One was a local, a gorgeous guy who introduced me to good sex.
There is a slightly wobbly patch when Bo’s fear he will be like his abusive father creeps in. And again, the book takes on a trope which is not my favourite and calls it out but loud. Double Hooray!
“…Maybe I’m not supposed to be with someone like you.”
“I think that’s kind of a shitty thing to say.” It sounded like he was trying to ditch me again.“You’re going to decide for me what’s best?”
“What?” Bo dropped his arm and faced me for the first time. “I’m not trying to tell you what to do. I’m trying to warn you off.”
“You’re saying that you shouldn’t be with me because you aren’t good enough for me, but that’s like saying that I’m too dumb to make decisions for myself. Don’t I get to decide what’s good enough for me?”
“You’d best be quiet now before you dig yourself a deeper hole,” I huffed.
Both AM and Bo have things to work out on the family side of things and both take some steps toward a more mature relationship with their parents (well, in Bo’s case, his mother because his dad is a tool). I liked that it was a part of the story but not the major focus. The plot could have taken a few sideroads to give more attention to those things but I think it was better the way it was. The main focus was on Bo and AM and their relationship and the college environment. So, while their family situations weren’t ignored, they didn’t get in the way of the rest of the story either.
Bo starts to learn that he doesn’t have to resort to “fighting or fucking” to release his tension and he finds home and acceptance and love with AM that grounds him. AM finds a support and devotion as well as the hot man package it comes wrapped in and she gains courage and strength from that too. In the end, AM takes a stand against the bullies which was pretty satisfying even while part of me was inwardly cringing about the oversharing at the start. And I liked very much that she called our the girls too. Because it wasn’t just the guys who were fuelling the rumour-mill and being horrid.
There was a section in the story near the end where Bo and AM meet up with some of Bo’s old Marine buddies (and a new series character, Grey is introduced) where I felt a little bit of the anti-slut shaming message was diluted just a little – some of their behaviour was a bit inconsistent with the message of the book (eg the hazing re Wilson’s sister). And, I wasn’t terribly clear on AM’s career plans after college – I felt like I missed something there – Bo said something about insurance? Nevertheless, the story hit the right note for me and I enjoyed the coming-of-age aspects as much as the romance (well, not quite as much as the romance, but it was right up there!).
What else? I thought the ending was a little less strong than the beginning and middle but only a little. I loved the pairing of Bo and AM. I loved that the other Woodlands characters were there to do something in the story and not just for random appearances or sequel bait. I am curious about the other Woodlands guys, especially Finn and Gray is intriguing too. I liked that Grace (the heroine from Undeclared) is shown to be a little less than perfect in this story, without it really intruding into the book. I liked how the fighting was better integrated into the plot and I liked the way the male friendships were depicted. I also liked Ryan and appreciated that not all of the lacrosse team were douchebags. And, I wouldn’t mind knowing more about Ryan’s roommate either.
There was a lot to like in Unspoken and there were a few nights I stayed up way too late reading this story because I was so invested in it. And that probably says it all really. I loved Bo and AM. Win.