Thanks to Netgalley, St. Martin’s Press, and Wednesday Books for the ARC! It hasn’t affected the content of my review.
I was slightly skeptical of this book going in, as I always am with YA these days, but I couldn’t resist the premise. I’m really glad I gave in to my impulse on this one, because this book was really cute, and surprisingly emotionally harrowing at the same time. The premise here is that Atherton’s star quarterback died in a drunk driving accident over the summer, and the coach has found his replacement in Jack Walsh, who is to everyone’s shock, a girl. She’s extremely talented, and she just wants the chance to play football and be part of a team. That no one accepts her, and in some cases actively plot against her, is not a great feeling.
The only person who is even somewhat nice to her is Amber, a cheerleader who is gunning hard for Captain next year (they are both juniors) and who is a closeted queer girl in a fake relationship with her also queer friend Miguel, another player on the football team. Amber has spent all of high school trying her hardest not to rock the boat, especially since so many of her classmates are homophobic, including her best friend Cara, whose family is uber-religious but stepped in to be a sort of second family for Amber when her single mom needed the help. Just a soup of conflict up inside Amber. Of course, the two are drawn together and quickly fall for each other, in a very cute way. (Amber calls Jack’s glasses cute, and can’t resist flirting with her, then straight up telling her she was flirting, promptly and accidentally outing herself.)
I was mostly surprised by how intense the homophobia and misogyny is towards Jack, and surrounding Amber. All the queer characters are out to their families, but none want to take the step to come out to the community as a whole, lest they end up friendless and ostracized like Jack. Haunting the whole thing is the ghost of Robbie, the dead quarterback, who was an asshole (he was blackmailing Miguel about being gay, among other charming behaviors), but who is now being sanctified by his teammates, the cheerleaders, and the other students. They refuse to give Jack credit when they start winning games, and the fact that she’s a girl has everything to do with it. And even Amber and Miguel don’t feel like they can stand up for her, because of the perceived consequences.
I was a bit worried that the conflict Adler created was too much to be resolved in the book, but she made it work, with only a little bit of handwaving. Most of it was just well-constructed plot, and you end the book knowing that Amber and Jack have their Happily-For-Now.
I hadn’t read anything by Dahlia Adler before this, but I would definitely consider reading more from her in the future, even though none of her previously published books are calling to me at the moment.