**There will be spoilers for the previous book, The Score. So if you’re planning to or haven’t read The Score yet, skip reading my review until you do so because some of the events in that book will be discussed here. But if you’re planning on skipping The Score but want to read this book, then go ahead.

It took me a while to settle on my rating for this book. I was waffling between 3.5 stars to 4 stars. I had some issues but at the same time, I really, really liked the characters. It took me days to settle on 4 stars. I liked it but it definitely wasn’t my favorite in the series.

First off, I had some issues with the pacing especially during the first half. The first half kind of lagged a little bit. The second half though was much tighter plot-wise and character-wise.

The Goal was unexpected in many ways. If you’ve read The Score, then you know that Tucker had gotten Sabrina pregnant. We didn’t know how that happened since Sabrina and Tuck didn’t really interact that much in the other books in the series. This book gives us the story that we were unaware of until Tucker dropped that bomb at the end of The Score.

Since the first part of The Goal runs parallel to Dean and Ally’s story in The Score, a lot of the events in this book was kind of a rehash of what happened in the previous book. We see them unfold again through Tucker’s eyes as he and Sabrina navigate their growing connection to each other, which is probably why it felt like the first half lagged for me. Don’t get me wrong. I enjoyed reading how Tucker and Sabrina got together, but the other stuff like Beau’s death and Dean’s reaction to it affected the pacing, in my opinion. I understood the intention of putting those events again there but like I said, I’ve read this before so I just wanted it over with and move on to the other stuff.

I would say that if you haven’t read The Score, then the pacing might not bother you as much as it bothered me because everything would be new and not a rehash of the events of the previous book.

Pacing aside, what really made this book a 4-star read for me were the characters, especially Sabrina. Now, I know some of you might disagree with me but Sabrina is probably the most complex heroine in this series, and love her for it. She’s definitely the most flawed.

Sabrina James grew up dirt poor, but that didn’t stop her from aiming high. She has a plan: graduate college, then go to Harvard and become a successful lawyer. She hadn’t planned on falling for a gorgeous hockey player and being a mother.

I think Elle did a great job of showing readers Sabrina’s motivation in this book. Her family is the worst literally, and all she has going for her is her brain and her drive to succeed. She is single-minded in escaping her past. She is perceived as a cold-hearted bitch especially when she had the gall to get mad at Dean for getting a grade he didn’t deserve.

But to her friends, Sabrina is anything but a loving and loyal friend who works really hard for her dreams. She is beyond stubborn and she has a lot of misplaced pride. It can be frustrating to read when a character that desperately needs help would be reluctant to even consider asking for one. But that’s part of her character, and it was consistent with how she was raised. She grew up being told and shown by her own family that they were doing her a favor for raising her somehow. That really marked Sabrina. And yes, it’s one of her flaws and it made her an interesting character to me. I was rooting for her not only to get Tucker but for her to prove the naysayers wrong.

John Tucker was a revelation in this book. Oh my gosh, what a dirty, dirty boy he is. I mean, this series so far as given an abundant supply of dreamy heroes, and Tucker is his own brand of dreamy. Like Sabrina, his childhood was less than ideal. But he had his mother’s love and support. I just love Tucker’s loyalty. Even before this book, I am struck by how mature he is compared to his other roommates. He’s the kind of guy you want on your side. He’s loyal and protective. But most of all, he’s the perfect foil for Sabrina.

I don’t want to spill anymore for fear of spoiling everything but The Goal is in a lot of ways different from the other books in the series. The characters are graduating and all of them are embarking on a different kind of journey. It’s bittersweet to see these characters move on from Briar onto the “real world” so to speak.

Overall, I enjoyed this book. It’s not a perfect book by any means, but its characters are just so darn enjoyable and compelling that I just can’t help but care about them.

ARC provided in exchange for an honest review.