It’s not too often you come across a book that you read and wonder why no one has ever broached the topic before. For me, Donna Freitas (author of the fantastic Possibilities of Sainthood) has done that in her forthcoming title This Gorgeous Game.
Olivia is a good girl, who attends Catholic school. She and her family are devout, and they have deep respect for Father Mark, one of the most well-known and admired members of their church/school community. Father Mark is quite well known as a writer, and it’s through his first annual student writing contest that Olivia has the opportunity to be mentored by him and take one of his much sought-after college writing courses. For Olivia, it’s initially a dream come true.
Unfortunately, it doesn’t go as it should. Instead, Father Mark has begun to ask a lot of Olivia. He wants her to meet him at a bar to talk about writing, and he begins to call her, text her, and show up in the places she’s known to frequent. Olivia keeps being told she needs to give up her friendships and hobbies if she wants to be taken seriously as a writer and scholar, but what is truly terrifying to Olivia is the lengths Father Mark goes to get her alone with him.
This Gorgeous Game refers to the title of a manuscript that Father Mark has written. The story? It’s the story of an older man falling madly in love with a younger girl. This is when Olivia knows she needs to do something.
Freitas weaves a fantastic story of power abuse, both in the sense of an older man taking advantage of a younger girl and in the sense of a man of power within the church using that status to behave inappropriately. This book never once steps into sexual abuse, which is perhaps what makes it most terrifying and realistic. Instead, Olivia is constantly at war with what to do because she has no hard and fast evidence of Father Mark’s creepo habits. In the moments that she tries to talk to her mother and her sister Greenie, she’s brushed off because they are of the belief Olivia has an incredible opportunity to work with such a revered man, and since she is young, she doesn’t quite gasp that honor yet.
A very sweet romance emerges in this story between Olivia and a boy her age, too, and it is him who ultimately helps her speak out. There’s a bit of obvious symbolism within this itself, but it never once felt overworked. Rather, I think it is quite a service because it will give some readers of this book so much more to dig into. Although this book is not one I’d label Christian or Spiritual fiction by any means, the clean story, the symbolism, and the important messages are going to resonate with readers of those genres. Readers of realistic fiction or coming-of-age stories will find this a worthwhile and memorable read.
Quite frankly, this is a story I will not forget for a long time. I’ve read a lot lately that won’t stick with me, but This Gorgeous Game will: the story line, the characters, and the issues at stake here are all done expertly and without being overworked. Freitas keeps the story short and does not venture into a wham-bam ending. It’s a quite ending perfectly suited to the story.
This Gorgeous Game will appeal to fans of Laurie Halse Anderson, Dirty Little Secrets by C. J. Omololu, and Nancy Werlin’s Rules of Survival. This is a book that would work well in a book club, both at the teen and the adult level. It will tug at your emotions, as Olivia is a very sympathetic and utterly innocent character. As soon as I finished this title, I wanted to talk to someone about it; it begs to be discussed.
Donna Freitas, without question, has skyrocketed to the top of my favorite authors list. Her writing is fluid and lucid, meticulous and well-plotted. The adults, aside from Father Mark, are not bad people in the story either. Instead, it is another adult within the Catholic school that becomes Olivia’s confidant. I read other reviews suggesting that characters like Olivia’s mother were unrealistic, but I disagree wholeheartedly. I believe her mother and her sister are “star struck” in a manner that is all-too-common, and that the situation as a whole is terrifyingly realistic….and timely.
This Gorgeous Game will publish May 25 by Farrar, Straus, and Giroux.
*Review copy acquired at PLA.