She's Got Game
She’s Got Game combines pulse-pounding competition with candy-sweet ruminations about love. Part chick lit, part romance, its reads-slightly-too-young-for-her-age heroine and predictability keep it from being a wholly recommendable experience.
Travel blogger Gwen Williams is a major devotee of Explorers of Islay, a competitive board game that requires luck, strategy and the right roll of the dice to win big. Traveling from town to town with the American Board Game Championship tournament, she hopes to move on to the finals in Las Vegas, where a $10,000 pot is in the offing – enough to get her out of the home she shares with her (unfortunately in her opinion) silver fox of a dad, who has raised her alone ever since Gwen’s mom left them both.
Gwen’s biggest competition is the very buff Cody – C – McKay, who is as handsome as he is arrogant about his skills at EoI, and a four time champion looking to add a fifth crown to his list of wins. Gwen is determined to both ignore her attraction to Cody and win at any cost. By the end of the first day, she’s moved to the next round, failed to attract him with her feminine wiles, but succeeded in smashing a piece of cake into his crotch. That doesn’t stop the electricity from crackling between them as the towns speed by and time passes. From Boston to New York to Chicago to Vegas, their relationship changes, grows and becomes heated.
Gwen will have to climb many mountains to get where she wants to go – from defeating her best friend’s fiancé to taking on some sexist dudebros to dealing with unresolved issues with her mom to ultimately facing down her commitment issues with Cody one-on-one. But is Cody feigning his romantic interest in her so as to remove her from the competition? And Is she ready to dive into another romantic relationship after her only serious one turned out to be a manipulative mess?
She’s Got Game has one big flaw, which is that Gwen absolutely doesn’t come off as a Harvard educated adult – she honestly feels like an older teen; self-absorbed, paranoid and generally immature. She has a blog that works as a travelogue from town to town and its peppy, cheesy tone belongs in a YA novel, not a contemporary romance. Not that immaturity is all bad. Example: Gwen is an Anne of Green Gables dork and Cody calls her ‘carrots’ throughout the book because she wore an AOGG shirt to the first meet. If you find that cute and charming, you’ll be able to buy the rest of this romance, as I did. I generally found it charming. But for all her good points, Gwen is a trial.
Her romance with Cody involves her flitting close to him and then flitting away, as he gives her lots of chances to mature and then come back to him when she runs. When he finally explodes at her you wait for her grovel to come, but she doesn’t seem to have the capacity for that level of self-awareness.
And yet I really liked the atmosphere of the gaming tourney, and Gwen’s friendships with Shannon and Holly, her grad school roommates. The book is fairly thoughtful in examining the emotional scars Gwen has left over from her mom’s absentee parenting and eventual abandonment, scars that have left her with commitment-phobia. And although I disliked the big, soapy final confrontation between Gwen and her mom, I liked the book’s message that not every woman needs to be a mother, and that not every woman was put on this earth to parent. On the other hand, Gwen’s relationship with her self-sacrificing gear-head father is enchanting. And I have to agree with the book’s ‘teen parenting sucks, don’t try it at home’ message. But no romance novel should end with a ‘fuck you’ message from the heroine to her estranged mom instead of a big, sweeping romantic moment between the hero and heroine. Oh well. At least Cody is a good, stand-up guy.
The book also suffers from an excess of padding. There’s an end-of-book Big Misunderstanding infidelity plot and Holly is arrested – and I couldn’t help thinking they were only there to pad out the word count.
She’s got Game is generally okay, but the seriously flawed heroine and redundant plot points mean it’s just an average read overall.