Chelsea always wanted to play basketball in college — it was her ticket to a big scholarship and it was a game she loved. She was passionate about it. But then an accident on the court her junior year leaves her wounded
and unable to pursue this dream.
Clint is a former hockey player who works at a lake resort in Minnesota. Something terrible has happened to him — something so awful he’s quit playing hockey and vows never to play again. When Chelsea’s family takes a trip there for three weeks during the summer, her father hires Clint to help Chelsea regain some of the physical strength she’s lost during her recuperation.
Even though Chelsea’s in a relationship and Clint’s not a believer in the summer fling, their shared struggles to overcome the loss of their dreams may bring them together in surprising ways.
Playing Hurt is Schindler’s second novel, and it is a completely different story than her first, A Blue So Dark (reviewed here). Although both stories deal with loss and grief to some degree, this one focuses on what it feels like to lose the thing you love the most. For Chelsea, this is basketball. It’s ripped from her prematurely, and it’s done in a manner that is completely out of her control. It was a real accident, and it’s a moment she lives over and over, both in her mind and in person: she has a video of it. She continues watching it, hoping for some sort of solace in it. It’s aching because as readers, we know how it feels to have a dream like that and have it torn from you.
For Clint, we’re left a little more in the dark about what happened to him. We know he’s experienced pain and loss, and frankly, he’ll never tell. He’ll admit when confronted, but he won’t be the one to tell Chelsea or the readers. Since I don’t want to ruin it, I’ll say it goes back to his beliefs about love and relationships.
The book is written in dual voices, beginning with Chelsea’s and then going to Clint’s. Their voices are distinct, though I wasn’t entirely convinced of Clint’s voice nearer the end of the story. Chelsea’s is pitch perfect, though, and Schindler really grasps her pain and her need to recover. The story is well paced, and like in A Blue So Dark, it is quite literary in execution. There are moments when the language really begs to be read aloud.
One of the issues I had with this book was Chelsea’s preoccupation with losing her virginity. Although that in and of itself wasn’t problematic, it doesn’t really present itself early on. We know she has a boyfriend at home, and we know he’s gone to great lengths to arrange a date for them to have sex for the first time together after she returns from her trip. Well, because she and Clint become an item, his work will be for naught. Chelsea gives it up to Clint. The bigger issue, though, is the writing in these intimate scenes — and there are quite a few of them. I found it clunky and unbelievable, especially from Clint’s voice. It came off more Harlequin than teen, more of a voice of experience and sensuality than of two clumsy teenagers in the backwoods of Minnesota. As much as I didn’t want it to, it did mar some of the great aspects of Chelsea and Clint’s characters.
Moreover, there is nearly no remorse in Chelsea for cheating on her long time boyfriend. She’d been with Gabe for two years, but she spent no time really thinking about him while engaging with Clint. Sure, she sent him letters and checked her email from him, but in those intimate moments, it never crossed her mind. This made me really dislike her as a character, despite the point of the story being to care about her and want her to overcome the loss she’s experienced with her injury. And trust me when I say it didn’t make me like Clint anymore, either, since he knew full well she was in a relationship.
That said, this is a story focused more on character than on sport, but your maturer sports readers who appreciate stories like Catherine Gilbert Murdock’s Dairy Queen will enjoy this one. Chelsea and Clint are relatable characters and what they go through in terms of mourning loss and accepting change will resonate with readers who’ve done the same.
Kelly Jensen is a former librarian turned editor for Book Riot. She's the author of IT HAPPENS: A Guide to Contemporary Realistic Fiction for the YA Reader and the forthcoming Feminism For The Real World (Algonquin Young Readers, Spring 2017).