Note: I received a free copy of this book from Online Book Club in exchange for an honest review. Playing Hurt was selected as an OnlineBookClub.org Book of the Day. You can check out both the novel and other reviews here!
I have to admit, I didn’t go into this book having high expectations. I expected a short, not-so-sweet story about a football player trying to navigate his way through teenage drama. But the actuality was way more intense, emotional, and relatable than I ever could have imagined.
Brian is in his senior year of high school, hoping to make the best of it. But his girlfriend, Deanie, has been avoiding him since the previous night, when they had sex for the first time. He plans on catching up to her after the big game, but when a massive fight between the two rival schools breaks out, Brian finds himself caught up in the midst, leaving Deanie alone with her friends and her old boyfriend who is back in town. This is only the beginning of an uphill battle neither of them ever imagined fighting. Can they come out stronger? Can they survive playing hurt?
Firstly, I need to post a huge trigger warning. Playing Hurt contains a rape scene, and an incredibly abusive relationship between the two characters involved. It also contains an instance of physical abuse.
This book is not one to go into lightly, and that’s coming from someone who did. I thought this was going to be a fluff piece and I could not have been more wrong. Though it’s set in the 1960’s, it feels oddly relatable to our own society and the pressures that come along with it. And that, I think, is what Nardella captured most perfectly.
This story could have easily come across as sexist. But despite the fine line that it walked, not once did I feel attacked. Scared? Yes. Horrified and disgusted? Yes. I felt upset reading this, but not towards the author. Towards the entire idea, and the fact that it is still happening today. Sexual and physical abuse is still so common, and as the story shows, sometimes you have a bad feeling, other times it blindsides you.
The character’s interactions are so upsettingly real. In one scene, two of the girls are talking about sex and how women are expected to be virgins until they’re married. But it’s really a double edged sword.
“It’s kind of like, damned if you do and damned if you don’t,” Deanie said. “There’s too much pressure not to screw these guys.”
She also suggests that it’s kind of impossible to hold onto a guy without putting out.
Again, this walks a fine line. It could have very easily come across as an incredibly biased and sexist thing. But oddly enough, it doesn’t feel that way, at least, not in the context of the story. Because the characters at no point say that’s how things should be. They say that’s how it feels like things are. And, having been a teenage girl, I can say that this is incredibly accurate. It feels like a no win situation at many times, even after high school, and Nardella captures this fear and lack of fairness perfectly.
This isn’t a happy book. It isn’t even a book that is overly original in plot. But the characters feel real enough to touch. You’ll find yourself on the edge of your seat, looking over your shoulder, feeling the need to take a shower, and wanting to cry all at once. This book holds a deep truth, but it’s honesty is not inspiring. This isn’t a tale that will uplift you. But it’s a good one all the same.
I don’t have much to be critical of, truth be told. I did find a few errors, along with some formatting issues which made it at times hard to follow, but the story itself was solid almost until the end. The finale did feel a little abrupt, but nothing strong enough to take away from the rest of the book. Overall, I rate Playing Hurt 4/5 stars. I would recommend it to many of my fellow bookworms, as long as they knew what they were getting into.
If you’re looking for something different, I’d definitely check out Playing Hurt. You can do so over at Online Book Club, as well as check out other reviews!