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This Gorgeous Game by Donna Freitas

Prior to being contacted by Farrar, Straus and Giroux about whether I might be interested in reviewing This Gorgeous Game, I had never heard of Donna Freitas or the novel itself. This is actually Ms. Freitas' second book for young adults after her debut The Possibilities of Sainthood. And I have to say I wasn't sure whether or not the book was for me after reading the basic synopsis available over at Macmillan's site. But then I scrolled down and read the lovely blurbs by Sara Zarr and Francisco Stork, as well as the always awesome Little Willow's review and I was sold. Thanks to those excellent encouragements, as well as one impressive and refreshingly heartfelt recommendation from my contact at Macmillan, I accepted a copy for review. And I am so very glad I did. Because this is a singularly  impressive book and one that deserves to be passed around and read and shared and talked about.

Seventeen-year-old Olivia Peters cannot believe her good luck. The results of the writing contest she entered months ago (and has been hoping and wishing and praying she'll win ever since) have come through and first place is hers. Father Mark D. Brendan--the famous novelist and professor and priest--has chosen her story. And not only will she receive a sizable scholarship, but Olivia herself will be able to attend Father Mark's summer writing seminar at her local university and benefit from her idol's one-on-one tutelage. Her mother, her sister, and her two best friends are so excited for her and it is with barely contained joy that she ventures onto campus to register for the course. Once there, she even contemplates attending HMU in the fall as the campus is so lovely and the crop of attractive young college boys so charming, particularly one Jamie Grant--a young philosophy major who's trying to get into Father Mark's seminar and seems interested in getting to know Olivia just as much as she'd like to get to know him. And then Olivia actually runs into Father Mark outside the registrar's office. And he congratulates her once more on winning, wants to meet her for a drink to discuss her story before the seminar begins. And, flattered, she accepts. And, quietly, it begins.

The opening passage (from my uncorrected galley):
I know I know I know I should be grateful, I should be grateful to have his attention. To have him take such an interest in me.

I should. I know I should.

I will. No, you are grateful, Olivia, I tell myself as if I am my self's imaginary friend, sitting across the table, giving advice. Start acting grateful then, she begs.

I have a gift. I have a gift from God, he says. So rare he hasn't seen it in all his many years. I'm the real thing, he says. I'm a once in a liftetime, he says. I'm special and it's his responsibility to take me under his wing, to make sure I don't waste my talent. It would be a sin not to help me, he says. It would be a sin for me not to take his offer of help.

But I swear to God . . . no . . . scratch that . . . I'll not be swearing to God . . . I swear to Who Knows What that his latest demand, this pile of typewritten pages he hands me with a face that says, Please, Olivia, oh please don't be difficult and just do this for me, is staring, no, it's glaring at me from the coffee table like a monster that might eat me. I feel like if I touch it I will go up in flames or the pages might bite.

Am I making too much of this? Isn't it just a matter of grabbing hold of the stack and moving it in front of my eyes so my eyes will begin to scan those black marks on the page which will magically arrange themselves into words that my brain will recognize and understand and voila, I'm finished before I know it.

Then, when he asks, because he will ask, I'll be able to answer truthfully, "Yes, I read it. I did," and he will smile and I'll be Good Olivia again.

I wish I'd never won that stupid prize which is what got me noticed by him . . . no . . . what got my writing noticed by him which is what led to the initial introduction which somehow turned into communications and invitations and coffees and attending office hours and going to High Profile Events together--his words--even before the summer started.

He means well. He does. After all, what else could he mean?
That's right. That's how it starts. Well, if you're anything like me, there's no turning back after that little throwing down of the gauntlet. You turn the page and the narrative immediately jumps back to the beginning of the summer, to the moment when Olivia discovers she's won the contest, which is where it really all starts. And from that moment on the reader serves as a silent witness to the slow, but relentless unraveling of a young woman's life, to what happens when the person she thought she could trust turns out to be the kind of person she's afraid to put a name to. I really admire the incredibly restrained and subtle way Donna Freitas approaches this potentially horrific subject matter. Instead of taking it quickly and provocatively to the bad place, she keeps Olivia's tale tightly reined in and, as a result, we are able to absorb and reflect on her experiences as they happen. Which is not to say that it's a slow read. Nothing could be further from the truth. I read it through from cover to cover in one sitting, unable to take my eyes away from the page, partly because I had to see how it all played out and partly because I didn't want to leave Olivia alone for even a moment. The whole thing stays almost exclusively in her head and I was very much with her, aching for her, hoping she would be able to find both clarity and a solution and somehow emerge from this hunching shadow that has overtaken her life. I loved This Gorgeous Game. I loved the quotes before each new section and the short, poignant chapter titles (particularly the exquisite "On Dark Nights of the Soul"). It is a haunted, urgent, dreamlike, yet very real story and one that will not be leaving my thoughts for the foreseeable future. This Gorgeous Game is due out May 25th.

A note on the cover: I love the title. Once you've read the book it takes on a whole other level of meaning. The cover image itself is decidedly chilling and, though I think it is perfect, it's still hard to look at.

Bildungsroman Review
Good Golly Miss Holly Giveaway (Ends May 17th)
Stacked Review


  1. You've sold me! Can't wait to get my hands on this. . .

  2. Thanks for this review! Definitely looks chilling.

  3. I"m so jealous you got your hands on this one already. Love the review.

  4. Now I have to read this. *sigh* Of course, I can't afford it... But it sounds amazing.

  5. What a great excerpt! I read and enjoyed one of Freitas's nonfiction books, about sex and faith at college (if I'm remembering that correctly). I didn't know she wrote fiction and now I'm very curious about her fiction writing!

  6. This sounds fascinating. In all honesty, I don't know if I'll read it (I'm a big wimp when it comes to books that wring you out like this one sounds it does), but it sure sounds like something to remember.

  7. You mess up my book budget.


  8. Janssen, I think you'll really like it. I thought it was delicately and rivetingly done.

    Donna, chilling is an apt word to describe it for sure. But very worth it.

    Amy, I was thinking of you as I read it. I definitely want to hear what you think!

    Kaz, you do. You have to read it! :)

    Jenny, I'm glad you enjoyed the excerpt. There were a few I was debating between, but this first one just seemed to encapsulate it so well. Without ruining anything.

    Kerry, it's certainly memorable. And while it does wring you out in the moment, I didn't feel exhausted or bruised when I finished. Rather, I felt content and relieved.

    Azteclady, lol. Love it when you stop by. :)

  9. Thanks for the encouragement. I've added it to my books to look out for list.

  10. I can't wait to read this. I loved Possibilities of Sainthood and I heard her talking about this book at a recent festival.

  11. Kerry, yay! Hope you do enjoy it.

    Diana, ooh, I need to look up The Possibilities of Sainthood now since you loved it and I loved this one.


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