Thomas Turner, better known to his fellow Reign of Terror motorcycle brothers as Razor, is conflicted. He wants to be unquestionably loyal, but when a police detective reveals new information about his mother's death, he can't leave the case alone, despite warnings from his father and other gang members. Having always believed she committed suicide, he's compelled to find out whether the Reign of Terror were in fact involved in her alleged murder.
Breanna Miller has always felt like an outcast, both in school and at home (she is the middle child of NINE siblings). She's super smart and dreams of going away to an elite school, where she's even managed to secure a scholarship, but is denied the chance because her parents need her at home. Her parents rely on her to help take care of her younger siblings and generally seem to ignore the fact that time and again, Breanna gives up on her dreams because of her family. Her only friend, Addison, has a lot of problems of her own, and as such, isn't someone Breanna feels she can turn to.
Like everyone else at school, Breanna is initially afraid of Razor, and there are all sorts of rumours about what the members of the Reign of Terror have to do to patch in. After Razor helps her out one afternoon when her brother's forgotten to pick her up, Breanna starts wondering about the mysterious Thomas Turner, and soon the two can't stop thinking of each other. Breanna's brain is constantly looking for puzzles to solve, and Razor just happens to have some messages in code that could help him figure out what really happened to his mother.
Once Breanna realises that a) Razor is not the dangerous criminal she feared, but actually a very smart and chivalrous boy and b) contrary to what she expects, he doesn't find her a brainy freak, but is fascinated by the way her brain works,, she starts warming up to him. Unfortunately, someone snaps a picture of the two of them, which out of context looks really salacious, and uses it to blackmail Breanna. She's terrified that the picture will be leaked on social media, potentially ruining her chances to get into college and away from her smothering family.
There is frequently an opposites attract, protagonists from different worlds theme in Katie McGarry's books, and this one is no different. Razor is the close-mouthed, emotionally closed-off loner, a motorcycle-riding bad boy with a dangerous reputation. He's grown up among members of the motorcycle club, and would never conceive of trying to leave them to live a different life. He's always wondered if his father's love of women was partially responsible for his mother killing herself, and once he discovers that his mother's death wasn't a suicide, but that she was quite possibly run off the road, he can't stop digging into the case, no matter what the older Reign of Terror members tell him.
Breanna is a loner in a different way, and despite her large family, feels like she has no one to turn to. The fifth of nine siblings, she is seen as an annoying younger sibling by the four eldest and as a nagging older sibling by her four youngest. Because she's extremely smart and well-adjusted, her parents constantly ignore her to prioritise more pressing needs in the family and rely on her for babysitting duties. She's denied her wish to go away to a prestigious private school because her parents, who both have to work full time to support their giant family, can't spare her. At seventeen, Breanna is pretty much raising her younger siblings, and that is not a job a young girl should have to have.
To add to her troubles, the star football player wants to pay her to write his essays for him, and when she continues to refuse, he manages to secure an incriminating photo of her and Razor together. The fact that nothing at all happened is completely irrelevant. The photo is snapped at exactly the wrong moment, and Breanna is worried that she's going to have to agree to the douchewad's demands, in order to make sure her future isn't ruined.
I have yet to find a Katie McGarry book that I don't like and she tends to do excellent pairings, with deeply likable protagonists, often in interestingly fucked up situations, who find solace in each other. In this, I was furious at Breanna's parents, who so selfishly kept reproducing and expecting their children to pretty much raise each other. I honestly don't understand how Breanna's mother, who works as a nurse, could ignore contraception in such a way. As far as I could tell, they were not religious nuts who believed safe sex was a sin. Who has nine children, when it's quite clear that they can't support said children both financially and emotionally? They completely ignore Breanna and all her troubles during the first part of the book, only to go mega overboard on being protective in the second half, once they discover she's been dating a biker. They made me really angry.
The "we know best, just never ask any questions" attitude of the older Reign of Terror bikers was also pretty frustrating. As they are clearly set up as law-abiding and above board, despite all the rumours in the local community about them, it was obvious to me that they hadn't conspired to murder Razor's mother, but their complete inability to be open with him, and insistence on blind, unquestioning loyalty, even when the kid is clearly struggling, was baffling to me.
While I care about as little about motorcycle gangs as I do sportsball players, I am a sucker for well-written, emotionally resonant romance. Because this is YA, there aren't really any smexy times, although there is some pretty impressive UST and some great smolder and kisses. McGarry keeps delivering books that hit me right in the feels, even when some parts of the story annoys me. I will eagerly await the next book in the series.
Judging a book by its cover: There are a number of different covers for this book, all of them variying degrees of meh to awful. The version I read actually had a pretty decent cover, which fits with certain scenes in the story. A blond guy in black jeans and a white t-shirt, walking along the train tracks on a railway bridge - this could be a scene of Razor in the book. Several of the key scenes in the story take place near just such a bridge, so I think it's quite fitting, and much better than say, the headless couple leaning against a convertible (had it been a motorcycle, it would have fit better) or the badly photoshopped couple embracing, while pouting out of the image that make up the other two covers of the book that I have seen.