REVIEW: The Play by Elle Kennedy
Dear Elle Kennedy:
This is the third of four books in the Briar U series; I gave the first a B+ and the second a B-. This book pairs one of the hockey players from the first two books, Hunter Davenport, with a new character, Demi Davis.
Hunter had a crush on the heroine of the first book, Summer, and when she ended up choosing his roommate Colin over him, Hunter didn’t take it well. He dealt with his disappointment by drinking and screwing his way the first two books. At the end of the second book, his behavior inadvertently led to the Briar hockey team losing in the playoffs.
It’s a new school year, a new hockey season, and a new, celibate, Hunter. He is now the captain of the Briar hockey team, and he takes his responsibility seriously. Hunter has made a vow to himself to avoid sex until the season ends. But being a young, healthy Big Man on Campus, it’s hard (no pun intended) to sidestep temptation. Women throw themselves at him at every turn. Which is why he’s glad to find out that his assigned partner in his Abnormal Psych class for a semester-long project, Demi, is firmly attached. She has a long-term boyfriend, Nico. Hunter and Demi hit it off, but both foresee their friendship as being purely platonic.
Demi is originally from Miami, though her family moved to Boston for her father’s job when she was 15. Her surgeon father wants her to go to medical school and Demi is afraid to tell him that after she graduates from Briar she wants to pursue a graduate degree in counseling and become a therapist. She’s only been with one guy – Nico, who she grew up next door to and started dating in the 8th grade. Nico stayed in Miami when Demi moved but strove to get into Briar so he could be with her. Though they seem to be in a happy, committed relationship early in the story, there are some subtle but obvious cracks in the façade. (And, of course, there needs to be a reason for Demi to become uncoupled eventually.)
One thing I found odd about Demi’s character – she’s described early on as half-Latina and there are frequent references to that part of her background. If anything, I thought there was sort of an eye-roll-inducing emphasis on Demi’s mother as fulfilling the “fiery Latina” stereotype. There is one single reference to her father being Black about a third of the way through the book.
I have mixed feelings about there being no attention paid to Demi being half-Black. On the one hand, it’s kind of nice that it’s not made a big deal of – white authors writing about PoC characters can be tricky. But…my perception of Briar is that it’s a very white place. Ignoring the fact that Demi is a Black Latina felt a bit like whitewashing, especially in light of how much attention is given to her Cuban side. I would have liked to have seen it acknowledged, even if it was only to have Demi muse that she hadn’t encountered prejudice but had been concerned about it.
So far I’ve found the heroines in this series more interesting than the heroes. In this book, I think I can pinpoint why. Demi’s parents appear in several scenes; we learn especially about her father’s fondness for Nico, the friendship between the Demi’s and Nico’s families, and Demi’s father’s hopes for his daughter’s career. She comes off as a fairly well-realized character, with friendships and other interests (e.g. she loves true crime documentaries).
On the other hand, we only hear about Hunter’s parents when he talks about them – they don’t appear in the book. Hunter has trauma especially related to his father – a serial cheater who is more interested in the image his family projects than in the happiness of his wife or son. But it’s a trauma and a conflict that gets very little attention or resolution in the story. It’s obvious that Hunter’s push/pull with promiscuity has some psychological roots in his feelings about his father’s behavior. I don’t understand giving a character conflicts to work through and then giving the working-through such short shrift.
Hunter’s an affable guy but doesn’t seem to have close friendships outside of his teammates nor interests other than hockey.
One other thing that I had mixed feelings about – the blurb gives away that Demi eventually breaks up with Nico and wants to use Hunter as her rebound. As that dynamic began, I thought a lot about how I would feel if the genders were reversed and the hero kept trying to get the heroine to have sex when she had reasons for wanting to abstain.
Things I really did like about The Play – the fact that Hunter and Demi’s relationship starts as a friendship, and builds from there. There’s still a lot of mental lusting, but less than in some new adult books (including other books in the series). Hunter and Demi really *like* each other and that comes through in the story.
The two also share a similar sense of humor (some of it a little immature for me – Hunter’s nickname for Demi is “Semi”, but these are, after all, very young adults). There’s an especially funny sequence involving some hoop earrings, a lost phone, and the two being caught in an inadvertently compromising circumstance by campus police.
This was a fun, not-at-all heavy book that I’ll give a straight B.