Okay, I feel like my reviews are normally pretty positive, so I feel like I need to put a disclaimer here: this one isn’t. It is more so a rant review (or the closest I will come to one). So be warned?
Summary from Goodreads:
Neil Josten is the newest addition to the Palmetto State University Exy team. He’s short, he’s fast, he’s got a ton of potential—and he’s the runaway son of the murderous crime lord known as The Butcher.
Signing a contract with the PSU Foxes is the last thing a guy like Neil should do. The team is high profile and he doesn’t need sports crews broadcasting pictures of his face around the nation. His lies will hold up only so long under this kind of scrutiny and the truth will get him killed.
But Neil’s not the only one with secrets on the team. One of Neil’s new teammates is a friend from his old life, and Neil can’t walk away from him a second time. Neil has survived the last eight years by running. Maybe he’s finally found someone and something worth fighting for.
This review is spoiler free*.
*ish, but spoilers are marked.
“Hope was a dangerous, disquieting thing, but he thought perhaps he liked it.”
Content warning: drug use (including a character being drugged without his consent), alcohol use (including a character being forced to drink with dubious consent), minor sexual assault, references to abuse, references to overdose and suicide
Okay, that content warning was one of the longest I have ever written and I still feel like I may have forgotten something. I have very, very mixed opinions about this book, so much so that I feel like I cannot write any sort of introduction, so I will just jump into the review.
This audiobook was a journey, I mean, the whole book in general was, but the audio especially. In the beginning, I was like “wow! this is like, pretty good” but then it like, continued and then I was like “Oh boy.”
When I was listening to the audio in the beginning, I really liked the narrator and thought he was doing pretty good at conveying Neil’s thoughts. However, the longer I listened, the more I found the narrator to be kind of not good at putting emotion into the story at points when there was supposed to have been a lot of emotion. The narrator did his best to differentiate between characters, but I would still find myself confused as to which one was talking if I happened to miss the “blank said” part. He also did what is one of my biggest pet peeves, which is kind of why I didn’t enjoy this audio, which is to have the female characters voices super high pitched and whiny. I just like, can’t stand that.
So basically? I wouldn’t recommend the audio version of this unless you are okay with average narrators. It didn’t really bother me too much because I don’t have high standards when it comes to audiobook narrators, but it even started to get to me by the end so if that is an issue for you and you want to read this, I would recommend checking out the physical book.
I wouldn’t say that I went into this book with high expectations, but I did go into it with some expectations. Those expectations were not met. I knew that this series is popular (like, pretty popular. I see it get hyped up so much), so I thought that it would be like a three star book at the lowest. I ended up giving it two stars after hours of debating between one and two stars. So far I have only given like two or three one star ratings (mainly to classics in high school), so this is a pretty big deal for me. You may be wondering, what problems did you have with this pretty popular and hyped book, Arin? Don’t worry. I made a list (as always).
#1: The casual drug use
I have been told that I am just a sheltered kid several times, mainly in college, and I know and acknowledge that is 127% true, but casual drug use in books really bothers me? I know that this is like just a me thing, but the fact that characters were just casually taking drugs and drinking alcohol like it was no big deal really bothered me. I am sure that this isn’t a valid criticism of the book, but I was uncomfortable so much through it because of it so I felt like I had to mention it.
#2: I don’t even know what to title this, so I’ll just say “the Columbia scene”
Okay, I said this review was spoiler free, but this section isn’t? Like, I will describe a scene from the middle of the book so if that bothers you, I would suggest skipping to the next section or clicking off entirely.
There is a scene where some of Neil’s teammates essentially threaten him into going to Columbia, a place that is like two (?) hours away from their campus, and once there, they try and get him to take a drug. Neil says no. They then go to a bar, they tell him to drink. He says no. They coerce him into drinking, so he does. Once he drinks, they tell him they put the drug in the drink.
I was going !!!!!!! this entire scene. I had to take a break because it was too much for me and almost DNFed the book, but decided I needed to see if anyone called this out for being, like, totally not okay. Spoiler alert: no one really did. The other teammates were mad about it, but the coach was basically like, “oh again?” !!!!!!! This is apparently just like, a totally normal thing for these guys to do and no one had a problem with it??
I could keep going on this for a hot second, but this is already getting long, so I won’t. This whole thing just made me sooo uncomfortable.
#3: The fact that I had like, no suspension of disbelief
I feel like I am normally pretty good at keeping up a suspension of disbelief when it comes to books because I like just immersing myself in them. That didn’t happen for this book, like at all. Here is a list as to things that really pulled me out. It will include some spoilers, so be careful.
- A coach is just, totally chill with a player breaking his parole and not taking drugs that are necessary to keep him stable just so he can play for one half of a game?
- That a college is willing to put a significant amount of money into making and maintaining a stadium for a coach to purposefully sign players that aren’t the best just to fulfill his mission. Like, I cannot see a college doing that. At all. Sorry.
- That a high school coach is going to knowingly let a player sleep in his locker room without like, telling the guidance counselor or contacting child protective services or something.
I could honestly keep going, but I feel like those are the biggest things, so I will leave it there.
#4: This is a sports book, and I couldn’t figure out what the sport was
I am not going to pretend like I am so sort of sports expert here, because I am not, but I do have the ability to follow most sports. I even work at a baseball stadium, but that is besides the point. I could not figure out what Exy was supposed to be, that may have been the point, but it left me feeling really confused whenever the sport came up (which is, like, quite often because it is a central plot point). Towards the end, there were long scenes at games or practices and I spent the entire time being lost as to what was happening, which I did not find enjoyable.
I don’t want to say that that this book is horrible or that no one should read it, so if that is the vibe you are getting from it I am really sorry because that is not my intent. It was just 100% not for me, but by the end I could also understand why others might find it enjoyable. A lot of people enjoy these books, so if you think it sounds interesting, please go for it!
As I’ve said, I don’t want to turn anyone off of this book. I wasn’t going to write a review at all, maybe just put a few sentences in a wrap up, but I felt like I needed to discuss the drug use and dubious consent in general because I had no idea those were present in this book and it left me feeling super uncomfy. Basically, my goal was to try and make people aware that these were present.