This Gorgeous Game by Donna Freitas
Current Mood: sleepy
Current Song: Girls by Sugababes
This Gorgeous Game by Donna Freitas is a remarkable and powerful story about attention, expectations, faith, and trust. It's about the power of authority, and the abuse of that power. It's also about the love of writing, and of family and friends. Most importantly, it's about speaking up when you know something is wrong.
In the spring of her junior year of high school, seventeen-year-old Olivia Peters is informed that she's won a creative writing scholarship awarded by Mark D. Brendan, a famous novelist who also happens to be a priest and a professor at a local college. As the winner of the contest, she not only will be given a $10,000 scholarship for the college of her choice in a year's time, but she also gains admittance to Father Mark's writing seminar - and his undivided attention. Getting his opinion on her story and working with him one-on-one makes Olivia incredibly happy. At first, she feels fortunate to know him and flattered by how invested he seems to be in her short story.
Soon, though, his attention begins to make her feel uncomfortable. He attempts to contact her multiple times a week, then multiple times a day. He leaves notes at her school and at her home, calls her on the phone, sends her emails and even text messages. Though most of his messages are related to her writing or to his, or trying to make arrangements for them to meet and work on their writing, and though most of his notes and in-person meetings are without any overtly romantic intent or threats, Olivia knows that something's not right about what he's doing.
What she doesn't know is how to tell someone about it. She doesn't want to seem ungrateful or disrespectful. She doesn't want to lose this opportunity or this scholarship, but she doesn't want Father Mark as her mentor or call her or come by any more - but he is, and he does, and he does, even when she doesn't answer the phone or the door or the emails. As his interest in her grows, Olivia shrinks. Little by little, she withdraws from her usually lively life, preferring to stay at home rather than go out with her friends and her boyfriend, not saying anything about the situation to her mother or her older sister, who attends and lives at the nearby college.
The supporting characters in this book are richly drawn. Olivia's mother, who publishes mystery novels under a pseudonym, raised two daughters by herself after their father left over ten years ago. Olivia's sister, Greenie, is going to Holy Mary University full-time and is involved in her first serious relationship with a gentle boy named Luke. Impulsive Ash and bouncy Jada, Olivia's two best friends and classmates, are supportive of her endeavors and read her story before anyone else, but they also have their own interests and hobbies. Then there's Jamie, the sweet college guy who shares Olivia's faith and her interest in writing. I'd love to read stories featuring any one of them as the protagonist and narrator.
While there are other novels about the relationship between teenagers and authority figures, This Gorgeous Game by Donna Freitas is unlike many of those. This is because of both the circumstances presented in this book, and the writing. The relationship is never physical, nor does it contain physical or verbal threats. It doesn't even have put-downs or that type of verbal abuse. Instead, it's about attention, and how it can turn from something surprising and wonderful that into something unwelcome and confusing, from shyly basking in that attention to shying away from it in shame.
Meanwhile, the pacing and the writing transform this slim volume from what could be "yet another..." novel into something unique and captivating. Related in short, titled chapters, this unassuming novel is a compulsive read. It's impressive, it's powerful (no pun intended), and it's really, really good.
I have added this title to my Best Books of 2010 (So Far) list at Amazon, and I plan to include it in my more comprehensive Best Books of 2010 list that I'll post here at Bildungsroman at the end of the year. I've also added it my Tough Issues for Teens booklist.
Freitas' previous novel, The Possibilities of Sainthood, is in my to-read list.
Favorite Quotes (taken from the review copy)
. . . as if somehow everything before me can quantify my worth, my potential, all that he sees in me.
- Page 72
"Mom," I call out as she heads up the bank toward the bridge, slow, steady, taking her time. "I love you!"
"I love you, too, sweetie," she yells back, turning to look at me one last time, her expression full of love, and I marvel how a single glance from my mother can feel like a shiny, protective shell all around me, as strong as the number 45 sunscreen I slather on my fair skin, the kind that won't let any of the bad stuff in.
- Page 137
I shut the front door behind me, catching a quick glance of myself in the long mirror on the foyer wall, thinking pathetic when I see the girl reflected back, the Olivia I've become.
- Page 163
If you liked this book, you'll also like:
Stained by Jennifer Richard Jacobson
Once Was Lost by Sara Zarr
Everything Beautiful in the World by Lisa Levchuk
Interview: Donna Freitas (2010)
Interview: Donna Freitas (2012)
Review: Gold Medal Summer by Donna Freitas
Review: The Tenderness of Thieves by Donna Freitas