Some books I devour and enjoy, then lovingly place upon my bookshelf where I can walk by it and smile, remembering that first reading with fondness. I may pick them back up weeks, months, or years down the road, but often I just put them up like trophies in a ‘display case’ while I move onto new stories, worlds, and characters.
Other books I turn the final page, close the cover, sigh, and then start all over again. These books teach me about myself or shed light on something I never thought of before, or simply involve characters who become a part of me during the reading process. Their story becomes my story.
PLAYING HURT by Holly Schindler.
First, the jacket copy:
Star basketball player Chelsea "Nitro" Keyes had the promise of a full ride to college-and everyone's admiration in her hometown. But everything changed senior year, when she took a horrible fall during a game. Now a metal plate holds her together and she feels like a stranger in her own family.
As a graduation present, Chelsea's dad springs for a three-week summer "boot camp" program at a northern Minnesota lake resort. There, she's immediately drawn to her trainer, Clint, a nineteen-year-old ex-hockey player who's haunted by his own traumatic past. As they grow close, Chelsea is torn between her feelings for Clint and her loyalty to her devoted boyfriend back home. Will an unexpected romance just end up causing Chelsea and Clint more pain-or finally heal their heartbreak?
I discovered this book from YA Outside the Lines and, to be perfectly honest, I fell in love with the author. I loved the path to publication story, reading what she learned from her characters, and mostly, I loved the passion she showed for her writing. I wanted to support her so I bought the book.
Then I got it, cracked the cover, and fell in love with the story. And Clint.
Holly’s writing is lyrical and poetic. She paints with words. Visually, PLAYING HURT is a wonderland of images, and emotionally, it’s a feast for your heart. It is a romance, but more than that, it is about two people finding each other, discovering themselves, and working through just about every emotion conceivable. With the pasts of these two characters littered with sadness, it would’ve been easy to fall into melodrama. But that never happens. And while the pain is real and dealt with authentically, there’s also hope on every page.
And lots of swooning.
Chelsea is an awesome protagonist. She’s strong and her voice is part-humorous, part-romantic. Her inner-battle between staying faithful to Gabe, her amazing boyfriend back home who stayed with her during the hardest year of her life, and following her heart with Clint, her trainer who understands everything she’s gone through and makes her feel alive again, is spot on. And Clint is the perfect mix of wounded hottie and strong protector. Originally, this was strictly told from Chelsea’s point of view, but I’m so glad Holly made the change. Clint’s voice and backstory is probably what made this story so special for me.
In the book, Chelsea and Clint vow to “never live timidly,” and to never take the coward’s way out again. As a storyteller, Holly follows her character’s advice. She doesn’t hold anything back, whether it’s exploring sexuality, living with regret and pain, or hurting the ones you love the most and dealing with the fallout. Her characters live and breathe, and in the end, become a part of you.
I highly recommend PLAYING HURT, available at Amazon, Barnes and Noble, and your favorite indie store. If you check it out, I’d love to hear your thoughts. In the meantime, I’m going to read Ms. Schindler’s debut novel, A BLUE SO DARK, a story I’ve been told is even better than this one, as hard as that is to imagine.
Published by Flux, March 8, 2011. 312 pages.