I wasn’t sure what to expect with this novel, but with a southern religious protagonist I knew I needed to read it to see how the author handled this and I am glad I did. I was a little hesitant at first as the last two book I read from this publisher, 50 Shades of Gay and The Hunger Gays weren’t amazing, but this one was excellent. I received a copy of this book from Riverdale Avenue Books and this is my honest opinion and I received nothing in return.
Playing by the Book is the story of Jake Powell and his journey from Preacher’s Kid (PK) in small-town Alabama to an elite summer journalism program at Columbia University in New York City. This is the first time he’s away from home and needless to say it is the experience of a lifetime. Not only is this a coming out story, it is a true coming of age story. Many young adult novels over emphasis one or the other, but this novel intricately tied the two together.
I couldn’t help but identify with Jake even though I was never religious, but the numerous times he talks about manners and the different way people are friendly in the South only made him that much more identifiable. Throw in how he approached his work as a journalist,
“News rocks. It’s neat and clean and there’s nothing more satisfying than covering every aspect of a news story so that there are absolutely no outstanding questions. Like the answers in the back of a math textbook, you checked the facts with news to verify your work was airtight. If someone took offense at the article, you just pointed to the facts.”
And clearly he and I are WAY too similar. Why would you need to write an editorial with an opinion when you could just provide facts to show people and then allow them to make their own decisions. Where I hide in academic neutrality, he hides in journalistic facts. The BIG difference came with his incredibly conservative family and religion. The passages where Jake attempts to come to terms with his sexual orientation and religion are incredibly well written and thought out, but what really brings it home are the last 10-12 pages in which Jake really does make a huge impact on his home community without really ruffling too many feathers.
In choosing to have Jake attempt to reconcile his religion, upbringing and sexuality, the author brought this book to an entirely different level. As non-religious/spiritual as I am, I have the utmost respect for people who have and follow a religion or spiritual practice and I truly appreciated another take on young adult LGBT coming out/coming of age novel. Often times, authors and activists are too quick to judge and to cast stones, but this novel definitely takes that into account and as I said above, brought it to another level.
Aside from Jake, I thought the other characters were great. Sam and Julie were great additions as minor characters and the other minor characters were just intriguing enough that I did wonder where they were occasionally. If I have one complaint about the characters and the story, I didn’t really want Jake to fall for who he did, but by the end I was okay with it even though I felt there could’ve been a better story written, but after all who doesn’t want love at first sight to happen?
I felt that what I enjoyed the most was the fact that it wasn’t a happily ever after and the main characters didn’t all have perfect stories (they did all seem to have a sob story however) and they didn’t all get everything handed to them. The novel kept expectations of young adults incredibly realistic which I felt was great, even if I had my hopes up for the best of the best and the emotional drop sucked, but that’s just the sign of a great novelist.
Recommendation: This is an amazingly well written novel and reads so much better than most first novels. There’s not as much of a twist as Winger, it’s not as overpowering as Two Boys Kissing, and definitely not as harrowing as Jim Grimsley’s Dream Boy, but I seriously hope this makes a splash in the young adult genre.
Opening Line: “KABAM! I popped up in my seat, not knowing if we’d landed or gotten shot down.”
Closing Line: “I don’t need a rehearsal.” (Whited out.)