Warning: Incredibly long review that attempts to justify my outlier rating. Brutal honesty ahead.
My chief complaint about this novel is Jacqueline's unrealistic reaction to being sexually assaulted. In short, it doesn't seem to have the kind of impact on her thoughts or behaviors that I would expect. She shows no fear or hypervigilance except when she's face-to-face with her attacker, she doesn't alter her behavior, and she's ready to jump into bed with a guy only two weeks after the assault. Instead of thinking about the assault or struggling to forget about it, she obsesses over her crush, Lucas, and her breakup with her ex boyfriend. Even her emotions directly after the assault don't ring true. She worries that it was her fault but there are no accompanied feelings of misplaced shame or strong feelings of regret about her behavior.
When Buck sexually assaults her a second time she doesn't even think about reporting him or show any more concern for her safety (with the exception of avoiding the stairwell where the second attack took place). She even willingly goes to a party where she knows Buck is going to be, and when he threatens her, she doesn't leave the party. Instead, she proceeds to drink more, putting herself in a more vulnerable position. At one point she admits that the reason she didn't report him in the first place was that she thought that Lucas beating Buck up would prevent him from assaulting anyone again, a ludicrous assumption made even more ludicrous when he continues to threaten her and tries to rape her a second time. Her thoughts are so unbelievably irrational that I couldn't connect with her character.
The other characters also lacked any sort of dimensionality. Lucas, the love interest, is your classic brooding bad boy with a tragic past. He even has tattoos, a lip piercing, and drives a motorcycle. Beautiful women throw themselves at him constantly and crowds part for him like the red sea. Women can't help pointing out how hot he is whenever his name is mentioned, even at inappropriate moments like during a discussion about rape. Following the fold of YA novels, he has never had a serious relationship before, though he's hooked up with quite a few women, and he becomes obsessed with Jacqueline before even having a single conversation with her. He even fantasizes about "taking her away" (his words, not mine) from her ex boyfriend and creepily stares at her in class all without talking to her once.
The side characters don't fair much better. Jacqueline's roommate, Erin, never steps out of the supportive best friend role. Her chief purpose in the novel is to be Jacqueline's friend and encourage her relationship with Lucas. Aside from one other girl, the rest of the females are jealous, catty shrews who glare and smirk at Jacqueline every time Lucas talks to her. Buck is too stupid to live and unbelievable in his actions and motivation. He was downright cartoonish in his villainy. And then there's Benji, the token gay friend whose friendship with Jacqueline springs out of nowhere. They have two lighthearted conversations and suddenly he's confessing that he's coming out to his father over Thanksgiving weekend.
The setting also seemed unrealistic, partly because Webber gives almost no locational information. The university is never given a name, and the city and state where the university is located are never mentioned, only that it's in the South, which is a very large and diverse region. The reader is also given little information about the characteristics of the university. There's no indication of the university's prestige, the size of the university, the size of the town where the university is located, the size of the campus, or the make up of the student body in terms of diversity, socioeconomic factors, etc. It's these sorts of details that make a setting come alive and they were sorely missed.
I also couldn't identify with Jacqueline's college experience because her university didn't sound anything like any I've ever heard of. She goes to a university where engineering majors are required to take economics, where professors assign seating in large lectures with two hundred students, where professors accept bad break ups as an excuse for missing a midterm, where a single professor can pull strings to a get a failing student into the school, where music majors take algebra. There may be colleges where any of these things happen, but they're not typical, and taken together it was just hard to believe Jacqueline's college was real. There was a distinctly high school vibe about the school experience.
Pacing was also an issue. There were far too many unnecessary scenes, which did nothing to move the plot forward and the plot felt very disjointed. Plot points were brought up or alluded to but never fully explored, explained, or resolved begging the question of why they were included in the first place. Different plot points would be dropped at awkward times and forgotten about instead of being present throughout.
Lastly, the writing was very unpolished. There were a lot of awkwardly worded sentences, and a few punctuational and grammatical errors. I also thought many of the chapter breaks were oddly placed and some of the scene transitions were hard to follow, particularly those leading up to the emails. Also distracting was Webber's tendency to recap action that happened during a time jump between scenes. While the dialogue wasn't terrible, there were quite a few instance where the characters would over explain things. At one point, a character speaks for four Nook pages straight with only a one sentence break. The novel was definitely in need of professional editing.
I would not recommend this book to anyone, although clearly it was enjoyed by many. There are far better books out there that portray the effects of sexual assault and trauma in a more realistic fashion.