Total Star Rating: 3.75 Stars
Upon my epic quest to find more LGBTQ literature, particularly of the Male-Male variety, I saw this trilogy pop up on several lists I’d seen on Tumblr that implied that it would be a great addition to that line of fiction. It’s a lesser known, self-published set of books that has indeed gotten some small hype for being an LGBTQ centric YA fiction, but with it being a top 10 seller on Amazon, that makes it pretty hard to ignore.
What It’s About:
The Story Revolves around Neil Josten as he gets hand-selected by the Head Coach of (fictional) Palmetto State University to play on their Division 1 “Exy” team. Exy is a fictional sport the author created that looks like a kit-bashed version of Lacrosse and Soccer with the same level of aggression as Hockey or Football. Anyways, it’s an opportunity that others would kill for, but for someone like Neal who’s on the run because of his father being a murderous Mob Boss nicknamed “The Butcher,” he has his reservations about the exposure it’d bring.
Of course, he does eventually go to Palmetto and meets the rest of the team who are basically a college sports team version of the Suicide Squad. They are a bunch of rejects and junkies; I mean seriously, they are some pretty shady people, and they are all allowed to play a contact sport against other teams. Andrew Minyard in particular is a real piece of work, and Neal doesn’t get along with him at all. While they try to not come to blows, Neal also has to be careful around another teammate and star athlete, Kevin Day. Neal remembers him from his past, and worries that if Kevin recognizes him that his cover would be blown and he’d have to once again run away and start over somewhere far from there. Neal quickly begins to learn that he’s not the only one keeping secrets, it’s just pretty stressful when those secrets could get out and get him killed…
What I Liked:
- Neal As The Protagonist! He is an incredibly withdrawn, anti-social and distrusting person, and with good reason. Having a mobster as a father, he’s experienced some pretty messed up things that no kid should ever have to, and has the physical and emotional scars to prove it. It was really endearing to read how weary he became of others when they tried to help him or offer him stuff like money or clothes. There was a particular scene at the end of the book when he does something that no one saw coming, but it gained him a lot of respect from his teammates was probably when I knew I liked him and am no rooting for him.
- The Extra-ness Of It All! Much like a certain guilty pleasure of mine, the CW’s Riverdale, this book is over the top, overdramatic; it doesn’t make a whole lot of sense in certain aspects, and just becomes super trashy…but I’m low-key here for it. Like, I know it’s trash, but I can’t help it but be entertained by it at the same time? Don’t ask me to explain why…but there are some pretty outrageous things that happen that can cause you to be like “What the hell am I reading?” A couple examples are how underclassmen are ushered into nightclubs, The NCAA allows a violence-prone student be able to play under the condition of being stoned on antipsychotics, being able to drive a long distance while dealing with a stab wound, or a player having knives on his person during an actual sanctioned game. That’s only a few of what goes down, and there’s still plenty more.
- The Raw Subject Matter! So, this book has a lot of problematic behavior that is probably not suitable for sensitive or easily triggered readers: the word retard is used multiple times, there is definitely assault and violence, toxic relationships, drugs and alcohol, someone is drugged without their knowledge, and then kissed/groped while drugged without giving consent. The author wasn’t afraid to touch on these darker themes, at least not condoning them. I know certain readers would be turned off by all of that within the story, but I personally like the grittiness that it added. First of all, it’s a work of fiction, and I can differentiate between that and the real world. Second, that stuff actually happens in real life too, whether we like it or not. Boycotting it or having it “cancelled” isn’t going to make it go away anytime soon, plus I’m about to be real straight with y’all… boys at the age these characters are (18-24) actually do some of these things…not all of them, but it isn’t that far fetched, at least from my perspective.
What I Didn’t Like:
- The Aimless Midpoint…It’s a mainly character driven story for this first book in the trilogy, and while I normally love those kinds of novels, for this one I felt like it really limited the plot. From what I’ve read, a whole lot more happens in the next two books. Unfortunately, this one seemed to drag for certain parts; I mean, the plot seemed to be Neal just getting to know his teammates and learning how to act and react to them in order to stay under the radar. The book doesn’t really pick up until the very end, and while I’m interested enough to keep going along, I can see a lot of other readers turned off to this along with the problematic subject matter listed above.
- Underwhelming LGBTQ Representation…While there is certainly some representation shown in the book, especially with the character Nicky being way into Neal…that was about it. It felt like Neal could possibly be Ace, since he mentioned early on that he doesn’t really date or act on anything. Again, a lot more will probably happen in the next books, but why have readers have to wait until then? Why not give a little more right off the bat? It’s a fragile line to go down; a gamble that could result in losing reader’s interest that way…
- Andrew’s Psych…Andrew Mulyard is absolutely psychotic, and is in a situation where he breaks his parole if he’s sober…as in he needs to be high on his ‘chill’ pills in order to stay a regular member of society, and even participate in Exy games. Everyone treats him like he’s this powerful, intimidating boss-like character, like “Andrew gets what he wants, and no one ever crosses him.” He’s actually pretty awful, and I can say he does a lot of the problematic actions mentioned above. His drug plan doesn’t seem to make any sense at all, nor does how his personality changes from either being on his drugs or off, and the withdrawals…it doesn’t make a whole lot of sense to me, and seems like the author didn’t plan it out that well, its mainly used as a plot device in order to make him seem like some unhinged, lunatic antagonist for Neal.
Overall, it’s not too bad of a first book for an interesting premise of a trilogy. While there is an openly gay character, it was disappointing to see a lack of the representation there, especially since it’s advertised as a LGBTQ repped series. It mainly sets the scene for the world that the story takes place in, with some VERY interesting scenes to end on a high note and revive my interest in the whole story. This book was alright, but I’m hoping the next books are great.
Thanks for Reading!
— Nick Goodsell