A sweet, light, frothy romance, Rachel Reid’s Game Changer starts with the chance meeting of a counter-worker and a hockey player, and follows the relationship that blossoms into love, sex, and a Cinderella comeback season.
Kip Grady, smoothie maker extraordinaire, juggles a job working at the Straw+Berry with looking to land more lucrative employment and an active social life. He’s suffering from a hangover when an extremely handsome man walks in, orders a Blue Moon Over Manhattan, and melts Kip with his charm.
The man with the dazzling smile is Scott Hunter, the so-called King of New York and star center and team captain of the NHL’s New York Admirals. After three years of a jet-setting life involving major victories, high fashion spreads and worldwide acclaim, Scott’s struggling in his third season, going several games without scoring.
Soon, Scott is a regular at the Straw+Berry, picking up smoothies after his run and flirting with Kip. Kip’s awkward kindness melts Scott in return – and Kip’s friendship provides all of the inspiration that Scott needs to improve his season, becoming the handsome hockey player’s good luck charm as his game turns all the way around. With his winning streak assured, Scott takes Kip to one of his games – and out on a quasi-date. Soon Kip finds himself sitting rink-side watching Scott’s recovery and sharing secrets with him over dinner dates. They quickly embark on a romantic relationship, and Kip moves into Scott’s condo.
But Scott wants Kip to keep their connection under wraps for appearance’s sake; his life as the most profitable hockey player on the planet won’t, in his mind, combine with his newly-discovered homosexuality because being out in the NHL is basically unheard of. Kip begins to worry that Scott is ashamed of him and yearns for a more public, out in the open life. Can Scott come out and balance his fame and true love? Will Kip choose to rely on Scott’s money, even as he struggles to balance love and independence? Or will the threat of being outed against their will by the media force them apart.
Game Changer balances the light-hearted and the angsty, and is easy to get lost in as escapist fare. Call it Cinderfella on Ice; it’s ninety percent fairytale from frosting-capped head to candy-dotted toes. If you like something sweet and easy and soft, it’s more than passably enchanting, and a very nice way to spend some time.
Kip is awkward, truthful and fumbling; the sort of character it’s easy to project your favorite qualities on to, but with enough depth and background personality to make him work as an individual. His rich social background and his struggles in the job market make him worth rooting for.
Scott, however, is less well-developed, and rather too perfect, which is part of what’s dragged the grade down. He’s handsome enough to do an underwear ad, altruistic enough to dream of helping queer kids after retirement, kind enough to be friendly with a barista, forward enough to have sex with Kip within the first sixty pages of the book even though his experience with men is limited, but is humble enough to want to avoid fame; he’s more of an avatar than a human being sometimes. What grounds him and makes him real are his flaws – a temper that’s intense and a fear that he’ll lose everything by being true to himself.
There are some nice side characters. I loved Maria, Kip’s supportive but gossipy co-worker, and his beautiful but sarcastic best friend Elena. Through Kip, Reid beautifully captures what it feels like to live as a wage slave, waiting for the next step, falling short a few times, and I loved Kip’s relationship with his mother and with his father. Scott’s hockey player friends feel a little less well defined from the pack, but are fitfully amusing.
The romance moves very, very fast, to the point where it’s almost dizzying. Kip instantaneously gets who Scott is as a person, seeing the lonely, heavily used little boy within – which leads to Scott instantly falling for Kip’s body and his honesty. They spend a lot of time having sex – in fact the sex-to-conversation ratio is probably about sixty-forty, but that’s not always a bad thing. If love at first sight is a trope you believe in, then you’ll instantaneously fall in love with the book as well; but if you need your romances to spend more time building and breathing, you’re liable to reject this book straight off. I found Kip and Scott’s connection whiplashed along at such a quick speed I had to resist saying ‘wait a minute’ and try to plunge myself back into the airy fantasy of it all.
The overall tone of the writing has the gossipy, honey-sweet odor of a wad of freshly chewed bubblegum. This is the kind of novel you read while painting your nails, with a brownie and cheesy pop music on in the background.
Your enjoyment of Game Changer is going to depend on how deeply you’re willing to lose yourself in the romantic fantasy if provides. Frothy but with some balance, it transported me for a little over half of its length, but all in all it’s a nice, crisp mid-fall read.