I really, really liked Elle Kennedy’s The Deal. The characters are fantastic, and I stayed up into the wee hours to finish it. Unfortunately, as is the case for any story involving sports or other serious pursuits, Kennedy’s lack of accuracy in portraying the sport of ice hockey created a serious plot hole that kept this one from being a true keeper for me.
At age fifteen, Hannah Wills survived a date rape when she was drugged at a party. She received extensive therapy and, five years later, with the help of her extremely supportive parents, she’s as well adjusted as any college junior. She’s certainly confident enough to easily turn down campus hockey star and all-around man-whore Garrett Graham’s constant pleas for her to tutor him for a Philosophical Ethics class he’s about to fail. Hannah has her sites trained on Briar University’s new football wide receiver, Justin Kohl, so the last thing she’s interested in is spending any time with a guy who’s bedroom is equipped with a revolving door.
Garrett Graham is desperate for Hannah to help him improve his ethics grade. As the captain of the hockey team and with intentions to go pro, he can’t afford to get benched if he doesn’t pass the make-up exam. Unfortunately, the one girl on campus who can help him is also the one and only girl who seems completely immune to his charms.
After much pestering, Garrett finally convinces Hannah to help him out by promising to help her get Justin’s attention. If she’s seen with a stud like him, Garrett reasons, Justin will definitely become interested since everyone knows guys always want what they can’t get. Hannah agrees to exchange tutoring for a date to a party where Justin is sure to be.
As Garrett and Hannah get to know each other, it becomes clear that Garrett may have more to offer Hannah than some dating cred. While Hannah has dealt with the fall out of her traumatic experience, having been sexually assaulted has left her more broken than she realized. When she approaches Garrett with the request that he uses his sexual prowess to help her overcome her issues, he’s touched that she would trust him so completely. He also begins to question his hard and fast rule against girlfriends or relationships in general.
Garrett and Hannah are fantastic characters. The dialogue between them just snaps, and I loved how they moved from Garrett’s dogged persistence versus Hannah’s absolute resistance, to reluctant allies, to friends and then finally to more. Too, there were a couple of instances where the potential for a Big Misunderstanding reared its ugly head, but Garrett and Hannah managed to have the crucial conversation to avoid all of the forced drama.
Also, I very much appreciated the realism portrayed in Hannah’s handling of her rape. While she’s worked hard to overcome the emotional trauma, she’s a very cautious young woman who has understandable fears about attending parties and drinking. Her sexual hang-ups seem legitimate, and the way that Garrett helps her work through them is very sweet and paints him as so much more than a guy simply looking to get laid.
I did find the whole premise of Garrett fake dating Hannah in order to make Justin notice her to be a bit of a stretch and wished Kennedy had thought of another incentive for Hannah to finally agree to help him. But this wasn’t really a deal breaker for me.
My big issue with the story, however, is a plot hole that occurs when either Kennedy’s ignorance about the sport of ice hockey or her attempts to make it accessible to non-hockey fans created a plot hole that had me shaking my head. Garrett’s evil father (and he is actually evil – more on that below) threatens to cut off all financial support for Garrett if Hannah doesn’t stop seeing him and, ostensibly, distracting him from his hockey career. Hannah believes his claim that Garrett will get kicked out of school and will have to give up playing hockey, his one true passion. The thing is, a hockey player of Garrett’s caliber – the captain of a D1 college championship hockey program who absolutely expects to go pro – would have received a full-ride scholarship to any university of his choice, and there would be no way the school would let him go so easily. Even if they did, his plans to become a professional hockey player would simply take a different path than being drafted after college. Ultimately, his father’s money would be irrelevant and no threat at all.
This created a problem for me not only because I’m familiar enough with the pathway to a professional hockey career that this breach of fact bugged me, but it created an unrealistic conflict between Garrett and Hannah that could have been solved in a less-than-five-minute conversation.
Garrett’s father is another problem I had with the book. It’s not enough that he’s an abusive man – both physically and mentally – but he’s over the top in the lengths he will go to to control his son. It became almost cartoonish. Learning about Garrett’s past with such a horrible man was plenty enough that I didn’t need him meddling and creating conflict when Garrett and Hannah had enough to deal with all on their own.
Another silly nitpick but one that bugged me enough to bookmark: At one point, Hannah calls Garrett to change the time of their next tutoring session from nine o’clock to an earlier seven o’clock. Garrett is at a very loud party and has trouble hearing her, something that Hannah can tell. However, instead of texting him afterwards to confirm the new study time, Hannah just shows up and then is miffed that he is “otherwise engaged” because he didn’t understand her call. Stuff like this always pulls me out of a story because with today’s technology, it’s manufactured drama.
Despite these issues, I did enjoy this book and am happy to recommend it to hockey and non-hockey fans alike. Given that The Deal has the subtitle of Off-Campus Book 1 and the fact that Garrett has three extremely hot hockey player roommates, plus there is an entire bench of hockey studs waiting in the wings, I’m happy to look forward to more stories set at Briar University.