January 24, 2013

Review: Playing Nice by Rebekah Crane

Title: Playing Nice
Author: Rebekah Crane
Release Date: January 3rd, 2013
Publisher: In This Together Media
Page Count: 209
Source: E-Book Provided by Author
Rating: ★★★★☆
Martina "Marty" Hart is really nice. At least, that's what people think.

It's Marty's junior year at Minster High. Minster's a small town where making great grades, smiling pretty, helping old people, running the new-student Welcoming Committee, and putting up decorations for all the dances - including the totally awful Hot Shot fall hunting celebration - gets you... what? Marty's not sure. Instead of dreaming about a sororities-and-frats future at nearby University of Michigan, she's restless, searching for a way out of the box her controlling mother and best frenemy Sarah have locked her in. When Lil - don't call her Lily! - Hatfield transfers to Minster, Marty gets her chance. Lil's different. She smokes, wears black, listens to angry punk records, and lives in a weird trailer with her mother. Lil has secrets - secrets that make her a target for all the gossiping and online bullying Minster can muster. But so does Marty. And Marty sees something different in Lil. Something honest.

Something real.

PLAYING NICE is the achingly true story of a girl who's been following the rules for so long she's forgotten who she was when she started. It's about falling in love with the wrong people and not seeing the right ones, about the moments in life when you step out of line, take a chance... and begin to break free.

[Summary Source: Goodreads]

I had a lot of fun reading this book. It's really honest and really returns to the fundamentals of YA contemporary. As in, it's not about jet-setting, nor is the main character's sole focus somehow finding the love of her life. No, Playing Nice is an introspective commentary on Marty's life and the most important secondary character ISN'T the love interest, but the best friend who facilitates Marty's personal growth - something I don't think is generally done now-a-days. 

Let's break this down

Marty. I'll start with Marty since this book is truly all about her. I mean, maybe it's a little bit about Lil, but, personally, I think it's more about how Marty develops based on her interactions with Lil. But I digress. Marty. At the beginning of the book she comes off as really rigid. There are rules, she is nice, this is how it goes. I can't say whether or not I believe a person like this could exist in real life without figuring out at some point that, no, it's not really possible to always play nice, but that's the facade Marty holds until she meets Lil. Lil is this bad girl - not the first bad kid Marty's met, by any means, but the first one she's been challenged to be nice to. And nice girl Marty's never one to turn down a challenge.

But, the result of Marty's kindness isn't exactly what she thought it would be. Instead of Lil getting acclimated to her new school, Lil helps Marty get acclimated with the idea of being the person she really is instead of the person everyone expects her to be. It's not an obvious shift. To be completely honest with you guys, I never really saw any Marty's actions coming. Does that make sense? As in, something would happen to her, but I could never guess what she was going to do next. Which just goes to show that this whole change was not only outside of the reader's control but also outside of Marty's, which makes the whole thing feel really organic and really believable. I think the only thing in the book that was truly predictable was Marty's best friend's reaction to the change. But the way that turns out even surprises me at the end.

I also really want to talk about Lil. Lil is your typical "bad girl" at first glance, but it turns out she really has a reason for her behavior - which isn't all that bad, if you really think about it. It's just that she's more open than everyone else and, in a small town, that equals bad. Anyway, that reason for Lil's behavior? I partially guessed, but the rest of the reason - the worst of it, really - makes the whole book worth reading a second time. Rebekah really didn't hold back with that portion of the plot. In fact, she doesn't really hold back at all. Even when Marty is trying to keep her nice-girl thing going for her on the outside, her inside is totally candid with the audience.

My only issue with the book is that as much as I really like the honesty, I'm not sure I totally loved all the sex - in thought or in conversation. I get it, they're teens, but I wish it was a little more subtle. I don't know, maybe I'm just sensitive to that stuff. But it really didn't bother me too much, considering how strong and important the character development and message of this book are.

Speaking of the message of this book: there are a lot of them. Some come from Marty, about being true to yourself and all that jazz. Bits also come from Alex, who's the sweet, patient jock (Okay, he doesn't really serve up any monumental messages, but he's so CUTE I have to mention him SOMEWHERE). Others come from Lil, when it comes to dealing with the consequences of someone else's actions. I would also say Matt even sheds a little light on the classic bad boy persona, which I really enjoyed. And then there's also Lil's mom and Marty's mom. They obviously both have very different sets of circumstances to deal with to be sure, but their values don't necessarily conflict. What I mean to say is that they both want to keep their families together. They both want to have everything be the best it can possibly be. Granted, it seems as though Marty's mom is marginally more successful than Lil's mom, but it's a similar, common and honest maternal instinct, even if they express it in two entirely different ways.

I feel like that last paragraph didn't make very much sense unless you've read the book, but the desire to understand what I'm talking about should be enough to convince you to pick up Playing Nice. I mean, who doesn't love a good, life-lessons, personal development, non-preachy, contemp YA novel? Or rather, I do, therefore you should too! :)

The long and short of it?

Unpredictable - very much an attention grabber.
World Building: Plausible: the small town that can't accept anything different. It's been done a bunch, but it's not always as convincing as it is in Playing Nice.
Character Development: The absolute best part of the book. All of the characters develop logically and do what someone in their position WOULD do, even though it's not necessarily what a typical YA book would have them do.
Prose: Sometimes gets a little awk with all the mentions of sex, but mostly pretty fluid.
Would I Recommend This Book?: This return to a more classic YA approach is truly refreshing and definitely worth your time.

I feel like this book's a little under-the-radar. Not to mention it just came out. But in the event that you've read it, how do you feel about it? Did the characters impress you the way they impressed me? Let me know in the comments below!

**IN CASE YOU MISSED IT: Yesterday I posted and interview and giveaway for Playing Nice. So go enter to win a FREE COPY of either an e-book or finished copy of the book. Really, why wouldn't you want a free book?**


  1. This sounds pretty interesting! I think it's great that it's a contemporary that focuses more on friendship, and not on relationships. Those are rare nowadays :)

    1. Alexa! I hope you check the book out! Thanks for reading the review!

    2. Right? Need more books that don't only focus on the boys.


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