Book in Review: Played by Liz Fichera10:30 PM
Author: Liz Fichera
Publisher: Harlequin Teen
Publication Date: May 27, 2014
Paperback: 352 pages
It is when a book hits so close to home that I find it the most difficult to write a review and make sense of how I feel about the story. Played is unexpectedly one of those books, and I've spent days trying to decipher my thoughts into words. Nevertheless, I shall attempt.
Played tells the story of Riley and Sam, two people with completely different backgrounds, whose paths one day cross on a leadership camp for intelligent and outstanding students. They instantly hate each other: Sam thinking of Riley as a spoiled bossy white girl, while Riley thinking of Sam as this rude, moody and arrogant guy. But when they are paired up to work together, Riley finds herself in danger with only Sam there to save her. After spending a whole day together stranded at the bottom of a cliff, they form an unlikely friendship. Riley then decides to repay Sam by helping him get together with her brother's girlfriend who is Sam's crush. Told in the alternating POVs of Sam and Riley, Played is about how two different people fall in love.
At first I found this premise quite shallow and unoriginal, considering there have been several stories made about a boy and a girl who hate each other but eventually fall in love and/or a girl who helps the boy get together with someone else but they 'unexpectedly' fall in love and end up together in the end anyway. The story of Played is a mesh of these two tropes and I wasn't as enthusiastic about it at first. However, Played drew me in the moment I got a glimpse into Sam and Riley's thoughts. I found both these characters very interesting, not necessarily likable but very compelling - and I wouldn't want to admit, but also relatable.
Riley seemingly has the perfect life, especially in Sam's eyes. Her family is rich, her grades are high, what more could she ask for? But throughout the book you see how much she struggles to meet her parent's expectations, to excel beyond what she is capable of. Though Riley is presumed to be a good girl, the obedient one who never drinks and always gets straight As, we get to see Riley get in touch with her rebellious side, the side that we honestly all have but try the hardest to not unleash. Throughout the book Riley does a bunch of stupid and selfish things, but through all of these, Riley is able to break out of her shell and mature into a person who can distinguish between right and wrong and also one who does not just follow blindly.
Sam is different. Being one of the few Native Americans in their school he tries hard to fit in. It was interesting to see how Sam juggled with his life home in the Rez and his life outside of it - how these two opposite ends would meet. Sam's struggle to be recognized by his father comprised a major part of his story and I liked how it worked out in the end.
Both of them have their own problems to deal with - problems that are not unfamiliar to teenagers today. These are problems that concern family life, societal expectation, acceptance and yes even race. There is a part in the book where the characters ponder over what the politically correct term for Native American is, something that has possibly crossed the minds of any teenager in today's generation. At the beginning Riley experiments with Botox with her best friend, and here we see a girl who has for a long time obediently followed her parents expectations and now realizing that maybe just maybe, she does not want to anymore.
There is also a diverse group of secondary characters. Fred and Ryan, the two main characters in the first novel Hooked, contributed a big part to the story and I loved how they fit into it. I loved how they were a big key to Riley and Sam's realization and journey to acceptance of themselves. Everyone else was also very interesting and well-rounded characters: Trevor, Fred's brother who helps Sam by selling him his bike, Jay, the misogynistic jerk, Drew, Riley's best friend who's always there for her, Martin, who gives the best advice to Sam, Riley's parents who just really want the best for her, Sam's parents who struggle to understand him and last but not the least Sam's grandmother who I found so likeable and so genuinely nice.
The romance between Sam and Riley was well-paced as well. I absolutely abhor insta love so I liked how they started by not exactly liking each other. I loved seeing how they evolve from strangers to friends and finally into something more. The dream basket which Sam's grandmother gives to Riley is an important component of their love story and I found if to be a sweet but simple way to wrap things up.
The best part of the book is the probably the last 15% of it. I loved how the story was concluded and the ending was just perfectly wondrous. It gave me this good squirmy feeling like I wanted to hug these two people and pat them in the back for a job well done.