Review: Game On by Michelle Smith

I received this book for free from NetGalley in exchange for an honest review. This does not affect my opinion of the book or the content of my review.

Review: Game On by Michelle SmithGame On by Michelle Smith
Series: Lewis Creek #2
Published by Bloomsbury Spark on August 16, 2016
Genres: Contemporary, Romance
Pages: 328
Format: eARC
Source: NetGalley
Amazon
Goodreads
four-stars

As king of baseball in the small town of Lewis Creek, Eric Perry can have any girl he wants and win every game he plays. But when a fight lands him in jail, he's only got one more strike before his baseball career is over for good. His only chance for redemption? The girl next door, Bri Johnson.

Bri hasn't talked to Eric in months- for starters, she's been too busy dealing with her jerk of an ex-boyfriend, not to mention the fact that Eric's been preoccupied trying to drink every keg in the country dry. But when he needs a way to stay on the team, she proposes a plan: if he helps her out with community service, he can stay on the team. At first it's a nightmare-Eric and Bri stopped being friends years ago, surely that was for a good reason, right? But as volunteering turns to bonding over old memories of first kisses under the stars, they start to have trouble remembering what pushed them apart.

In a town as small as Lewis Creek, nothing stays secret for long and their friendship and romance might mean bad news. But in this final, tumultuous spring before graduation, Eric and Bri are about to realize that nobody's perfect alone, but they might just be perfect together.

Southern fiction is a genre I typically try to avoid, mostly due to the high chances of getting strong dialect, something I never care to read no matter the dialect. As such, I was suspicious of Michelle Smith’s debut Play On, but she won me over with a sweet romance and strong portrayal of depression. Game On lives up to the standard set by Smith’s debut. Once again, there’s a sweet romance but, more than that, there’s a beautiful portrayal of two slightly broken people. A bit darker than the fluffy cover, Game On touches on tough subjects with kindness and hope.

Eric Perry and Bri Johnson have, on the surface, a pretty typical friends to lovers/next door neighbor romance. Sure, they’re both hot and conveniently located for romance, but their bond really goes deeper than that. Both Eric and Bri are dealing with major self-confidence issues, in life and especially in terms of romance, because of their pasts. They both need someone who will actually care, who will build them up and remind them how awesome they are.

Eric’s the starting pitcher for baseball-obsessed Lewis Creek this year, now that Austin of Play On has graduated. (For those who don’t remember, like I didn’t, Eric’s also the younger brother of Brett, aka the gay guy who came out in Play On.) Though Eric has wanted to be starting pitcher, he’s also petrified. The town puts a ton of pressure on the team, and the pitcher gets the bulk of that. He’s not the talent that Austin was, and he’s also already a bit of a mess. His coach saved him from a drunk driving charge the year before, for example.

He also has a bad reputation, known for being a good time in the back of a truck. Obviously, Eric enjoys this, but it also makes him feel like shit about himself. For all his bad rep, he wishes he could have a steady girlfriend who liked him for more than sex. (It’s so much fun to see this arc on a guy.) Unfortunately, he’s afraid of relationships because his past girlfriends all cheated on him. He hears a lot that he’s just not “boyfriend material.” That one-two punch has Eric afraid of love, while also desperate for it.

Meanwhile, Bri’s got even worse shit going on. She’s been dating Matt, one of Eric’s teammates, for several months. Though it’s not called out in the text, Matt is so totally a psychopath. He was the perfect boyfriend for two months, sweet and loving. Two months in, he told her he loved her, which precipitated a steady decline. He began the process of tearing down her self-confidence by telling her she’s stupid, pulling her away from her friends (like Eric), and making sure she’s at his beck and call. Since Bri’s mother left and her dad now works as a truck driver and is frequently gone, Bri proved a good target. She finds the strength to break up with Matt and keep it that way (with help from her friend Becca, Eric, and Coach Taylor), but he’s done terrible things to her sense of self and her opinions of romance.

While I didn’t super get the feels from this, I loved the chilling honesty of Bri’s relationship with Matt, and it’s so sweet how Eric’s just the right person to build her back up. He’s not fixing her, but what she needs is someone who actually cares and he does. She also gets the additional support of his big, loving family. Meanwhile, her motivation and focus, as well as some truth bombs, help him start planning for his future and get past the crushing pressure. They have a really nice slow arc from friendship to romance.

Another thing that impresses me so much about this book is how well-developed the secondary characters are, particularly Eric’s family. They steal the show a bit. Eric’s a preacher’s kid, which normally would not be my favorite thing, but I love this family. Eric’s parents accept their kids: their openly gay son and their two “troubled” kids, busted regularly for drinking and sex (Eric and the oldest daughter). Even when Eric gets in big trouble, they are so loving. They discipline him, but there’s no yelling or condemnation, and they defend their children against snide comments from the congregation. It’s really beautiful.

Readers who enjoy Miranda Kenneally’s Hundred Oaks should definitely take a spin in Michelle Smith’s slightly more diverse Lewis Creek.

Favorite Quote:

In all the stories I’ve read, people say that falling for someone is like fireworks. That’s how it was with Matt: the fall was hard and fast, and we crashed and burned. But maybe it’s not always that. Maybe it comes slowly sometimes. Maybe it’s more like a constellation: One star connects to another, and then another, and then another. And then suddenly, hundreds of little things have connected to form a really big thing. And those big things?

They become everything.

Tl;dr – Review in a GIFfy:

 

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