Thursday, June 23, 2011

Playing with Matches by Brian Katcher

Book:  Playing with Matches
Author:  Brian Katcher
Publisher:  Random House Children’s Books
Year:  2008
Reason I read it:  It is a required read for my YA lit class
My grade:  A

Some guys are born handsome, but seventeen-year-old Leon Sanders has a mug that looks like it should be hanging in a post office with the caption “wanted for shoplifting and credit card fraud”. Thanks to his twisted sense of humor, he’s managed to go from nerdy to unknown. Leon’s new locker neighbor is Melody Hennon, an unfortunate girl whose face was horribly disfigured from a childhood accident. When Leon takes a chance and makes her laugh, he discovers that underneath the scarred skin, Melody is a funny, smart, and interesting person. Leon never predicted that he and Melody would become good friends…and maybe more.

Although Leon second-guesses his own growing feelings for Melody and worries about what people will think of the two of them dating, he’s happy to have someone in his life who treats him like he’s special. But when Amy Green, cheerleader and Leon’s long-time crush, asks him out, his devotion to Melody hangs in the balance. Leon tries to find a way out of this dilemma without hurting anyone, but soon realizes–a little too late–that playing with someone’s heart is as dangerous as playing with matches.

My Review

This is really a case of “don’t judge a book by its cover”.  I HATED this cover and when it arrived as one of my required reads, I was sort of dreading it.

I am sooooooooo glad that I had to read this book!

Now, I understand why this was a YALSA Top Ten pick.  This book was wonderful.  It was poignant, bittersweet and heart wrenching.  I loved Leon, then I wanted to punch him and then I felt sorry for him.  I loved Melody.  I felt sorry for her, then I rejoiced with her, then I got angry for her and finally, I was thrilled to see her think highly of herself.

Leon is the main character in this book, but the whole cast of characters is incredible.  The rude and crude twins are so funny.  I loved Samantha, the militant feminist and Rob “one of 10 black kids in the school” is such a conundrum.  Dan is the devil worshipping weirdo, but he may be my favorite secondary character.  Of course, Melody is a show stealer in this book.  The characters were so rich and often they were laugh out loud funny.  At first, I felt sorry for them as the group of outcasts, but of course, in the end, they turn out to be the better group of people.

This book is about Leon’s growth, but it was nice to see the growth that EVERYONE made in the novel.  I’m not sure how Brian Katcher managed to portray that, but even the twins were able to refrain themselves from making rude comments to Melody and in the end, they all were able to see past her outside scars.  What was especially touching was how Leon started to realize that there was more to all of his friends on the inside and by the end of the book, this group of seeming misfits had grown closer because of Melody.

I loved the ending.  It was perfect.  

I am so afraid of giving too much away with the plot.  Is it cliched?  Yes.  Does that make it any less wonderful?  No.  I think that it is realistic and the author seems to capture the voice of a teenage boy perfectly.  Leon’s inside running monologue was humorous and often very one-track.  Of course, he is a seventeen year old boy!

This book does have some references to sex, since that’s all seventeen year old boys think of, really.  However, there is no portrayal of sex, much to Leon’s chagrin!  There is a smattering of language, but it’s tame.  There is some underage drinking and smoking, but it’s not glamorized or described in great detail.  It just is there.

My grade for this book is an A.  It was an exceptional story about an exceptional group of friends who learn to see themselves in a better light when they open up to another outcast.  I thought it was inspiring.

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