Initial reaction: I need to think about my reflections on this a bit. I actually did end up reading this (curse my curiosity and completionist tendencies). It was about how I expected it to be. Jessica was a pretty insufferable character, but there were elements of potential in the story here. Quite a few issues, though. It was only marginally better than "True", but not by much. To be honest, after reading "Believe" - I don't know if it was better or worse. Probably on the same level.
I've had more than a year to think on my reactions to this book. Think it's time to go ahead and rate it. Honestly, my biggest problem about this book was Jessica, but I expected that given the fact that I hated her character in "True." She's selfish, has a very annoying internal voice, and constantly slut shames, herself as well as others. It got old very quickly. I understand that Jessica's supposed to be a woman who grew up with close-minded views in a deeply controlling, religious family - but dude? There were so many times she sounded like a brat with her constant put-downs that I found it hard to sympathize with her, even in some of the book's tougher moments (at least from how shallow and obvious they were painted). Her actions were just reckless and the fourth wall breaking in some measures did not help matters much for the portrayal of her acknowledging her mistakes, yet doing them anyway. I felt like most of the narrative space in this novel was taken up or made longer by Jessica's rambly voice, which didn't endear me to her or make me see her perspective much, really.
Some of the moments between Riley and Jessica were okay, particularly for the banter and the fact that she was helping him fix up his house. Also family features. Small moments like that made the book a little more bearable than it otherwise would've been, but this is still formulaic New Adult. Bad boy falls in love with (this time) a bad girl, both have their tragic pasts, guy gives girl a pet name (Pita? Really?!), guy saves girl from being harassed/raped (I'm so tired of this shallow portrayal of such a serious issue), there's some sexual shaming (including of Robin, at one point Jessica says that Robin should "Get the F out" and leave Riley to her because she's jealous of Riley's attention towards Robin. Oy vey). I mean, I could go on about how this is a paint-by-numbers story. Some moments feel genuine, but they're far and few between.
I didn't even feel like this treated the religion theme well - it was so...stereotypical and shallow for the portrayal.
In the end, it wasn't a memorable story for me. The only reason I rate it at maybe 1.5 stars is the fact that Riley had a little more flesh for me to pick from than some of the other heroes in McCarthy's TRUE series. (There were moments where I liked following him, and his reactions were palpable, but there were still...issues.) And while I read this book technically after "Believe", I didn't feel like I missed too much delaying the read for this entry in the series.
Overall score: 1.5/5 stars.
Note: I recieved this as an ARC from NetGalley, from the publisher InterMix.