Saturday, August 13, 2011

Book Review: This Gorgeous Game by Donna Freitas

Book: This Gorgeous Game
Author: Donna Freitas
Published: 2010
Source: Local Library

Olivia's life is looking pretty good right now. Not only is she the first-ever winner of a prestigious young writer's award, the contest's sponsor has taken a special interest in her. Father Mark, a Catholic priest and a famous novelist, is everything Olivia wants to be, and his attentions make her dizzy. Special meetings to talk about writing, invitations to prestigious literary events, presents chosen just for her.

Then the attention gets to be so marked, and so focused, that Olivia's inner voice starts to whisper that something is wrong. What could be wrong, though? Father Mark is wonderful, kind, generous, a literary genius. He just wants to help her . Everyone loves him. Why can't Olivia? Why do the sight of his letters, his emails, and his texts suddenly make her sick to her stomach? She has to be imagining it.

She just has to be.

So let's get this out of the way now. Yes, Father Mark is a Catholic priest. Yes, he is abusing his position of power over Olivia. No, this is not a book about the eeeeeevil Catholic church overlooking pedophiles. In fact, everyone that Olivia turns to at the end are staunch Catholics, and they say without blinking, "This ain't right." As a Catholic, I love this because my church has taken enough beatings, and as a reader, I love this because it becomes a much more universal story about a girl in a terrible situation, threatened by someone in power over her.

This is a short book as YA books go these days, only about 200 pages, and yet I had to keep putting it down and walking away for awhile, especially as I got closer to the end. Freitas does a masterful job of slowly twisting Father Mark's behavior from flattering to smothering to ultimately terrifying. There are hints of his darker nature even at the beginning--seriously, who arranges a meet-up with a seventeen-year-old girl at a bar?--but Olivia willfully blinds herself to them because she is so dazzled and flattered.

Father Mark gives Olivia two poems, close to the end of the book, that are such shattering love poems that I wobbled around going, "Wow" after I read them. One is Pablo Neruda's Sonnet XVII, the other a poem from Thomas Merton (that unfortunately I wasn't able to find online, pooey), and they both knocked me flat on my butt. But in this context, from this person, they ratchet up the creepy by a factor of 100, if not 1000. These poems speak of a love that Olivia isn't ready for, and knows she isn't ready for, and yet that Father Mark seems convinced she feels the same as he does.

Like all stalking relationships, it really is about power, not love. Father Mark's positions as a priest to a faithful Catholic, as a professor to a student, as a published and lionized author to a promising novice, and as an adult to a teenager, all make it terribly difficult for Olivia to even admit to herself that what he's doing is terribly wrong and she doesn't want it to continue. Those are also the reasons why she must. I said it in my roundup a few months back and I'll say again now: this is the book for every girl who's ever ignored the little voice inside that says, "This isn't right." This is also the book for every girl who might hear that little voice in the future.

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