Author: Michelle Smith
Publisher: Spencer Hill Contemporary
Release Date: April 14th, 2015!
*eARC kindly provided by Spencer Hill Press via NetGalley*
In the small town of Lewis Creek, baseball is everything. Especially for all-star pitcher Austin Braxton, who has a one-way ticket out of town with his scholarship to a top university. All that stands between him and a new start is one final season. But when Austin starts flunking Chemistry, his picture-perfect future is in jeopardy. A failing grade means zero playing time, and zero playing time means no scholarship.
Enter Marisa Marlowe, the new girl in town who gets a job at his momma's flower shop. Not only is Marisa some home-schooled super-genius; she's also a baseball fanatic and more than willing to help Austin study. As the two grow closer, there's something about Marisa that makes Austin want more than just baseball and out of Lewis Creek -- he wants a future with her. But Marisa has a past that still haunts her, one that she ran all the way to South Carolina to escape.
As Austin starts to peel back the layers of Marisa’s pain, it forces him to look beyond the façade of himself and everyone he thought he knew in his town. What he sees instead is that in a small town like Lewis Creek, maybe baseball isn’t everything—maybe it is just the thing that ties them all together.
My Review!This isn't a review. It's a gush-fest, based purely on my emotions while I read the book. It is not critical in any way, shape, or form. *So that means I go into good depth about what happens to the characters, so it might be minor spoilery!
I can't remember the last time I have felt this way toward a book. This complete and utter devotion, a book that tore me open and made me laugh in the next moment. A book that became so personal and so real that I had to stop reading multiple times to let it all sink in. A book that hurt, but at the same time, healed. Maybe All the Bright Places? But no, that never became PERSONAL to me. It made me sob my eyes out, but it just didn't reach me in the deepest part of my heart. I think the last time a book did that, it was Ten Tiny Breaths. Last May. It's so very rare when this happens, which makes it all the more special that Play On became a book that touched the deepest part of my heart. This is probably going to end up being one of the most personal reviews, hell posts, that I've done on the blog. So, here goes.
When I say I sobbed, I mean full-on ugly cried. Tears continually pouring down and nose running all over the place. Like, I know this book isn't going to hit people the same way that it crushed me, and that's okay. Maybe they've never experienced what the characters go through, or maybe they just found it utterly charming and wonderful. And that's great, honestly. This book is all of those things, but to me, it is so much MORE. I went into this expecting a cutesy (maybe even cheesy) romance, and what I got was everything I never knew I wanted in a story.
I think it has to do with being able to put myself in both of the characters' shoes. Being able to understand Austin and what it's like losing your dad, your best friend. Being able to understand Marisa and what it's like to fall into those dark moods where you feel so alone and that nothing is going to get better. It made the characters, and how I felt for them, 10x more intense. I cried for them. I hurt for them. I laughed with them, and I cheered them on throughout the whole story. Because they both deserved all of the happiness, and they both deserved to find peace.
I loved. I loved that this was told completely in the boy's POV. Because you know what? It is so freaking rare in YA, and we need more of it. And Austin's voice was just so genuine and real and BOY. So very realistic to a teenage boy, and I adored him. He is the epitome of a Good Guy. You know those boys that are practically non-existent in YA? Hell, in any genre? You guys know me. You know I love my bad boys. But man, Austin could sure give them a run for their money. He was not boring or plain or simple. He was a true country boy to his core. Sweet, kind, so good and generous and wonderful and lovely and all of the descriptions that define a goddamn honest heart. But he was also more than that. He was stuck on his father's death, on the grief and pain, the bitterness he feels. And I can understand every single thing he was going through, not in specific detail, but close enough. It helped me connect so easily to Austin, and I was so happy that he found a way to move on and to preserve the good memories of his dad.
And Marisa, my strong girl. A girl after my own heart. Funny, intelligent, witty, hard-working, and oh so wonderful. But behind her smile was a world of pain, one that she didn't let people see because she didn't want to feel like a burden. She didn't want to drag everyone into her broken mess. And she is so strong, so absolutely real and complex. A girl who didn't try to be more than she was, someone who was honest about her life and her choices and her past. And someone who had her bad days, but who still found something to live for, even in the smallest of things.
As much as Austin helps her, Marisa helps him. These two were so good for each other. They balanced each other, gave each other something they'd both been needing: an unconditional, unburdened love and friendship that would help through the good and the bad. And someone who would stand by your side through anything, no matter what curveballs life decided to throw your way. Curveballs such as mental illness, depression, suicide, and grief.
Dealing with mental illness is awful and difficult and makes you feel like no one in the world can understand. But it's also hard on the people around you, the ones who love you and want to be there for you through everything. The good, the bad, and the downright ugly. And it's HARD. It's so damn hard for both parties, and I loved how Michelle showed that through her story. I love how she championed for Marisa and also said that Austin's feelings of hurt and rage and sadness were OKAY. This isn't easy, and it takes hard work. But when you love someone, it's never a burden or an annoyance. If anything, you want to do more for them. You want to fix them. But you can't really fix people. You can only weather through the storms with them and make sure that they're not alone. Austin needed to come to terms with Marisa's illness and his dad's suicide, and Marisa had to realize that the people you love will never want you to be alone.
And oh, my heart was practically soaring with the baseball scenes! You know, I love almost all sports. I love watching hockey and basketball especially, but I love playing everything (except soccer). But baseball, man. Baseball holds my heart. It is part of a thousand memories from childhood, where my cousins, brother, and I would play ball whenever we were at our grandparents' house. We'd play every. single. day. I adored everything baseball in this, especially the team! They were so cute together, and I loved how they had each other's backs. And gah, the bromance between Austin and Jay was one of my FAVORITE parts of this story. Catcher and pitcher, able to read each other's minds on the field and off because they'd been best friends since Little League. ASDFJKL; THE FEELS. <3
Speaking of Jay, the secondary characters were a wonderful addition to the story! All of them. I loved that there was a secondary LGBTQ story-line. It didn't feel unnecessary; it was part of the bigger picture. And it never overrode the main one. I also loved the additions of both Austin's mom and Marisa's parents. They were actually there, in the story, not some mythical beings who only came around when their kid needed parenting.
This felt like a real place, this small town and the people in it. Their love for baseball, their love for each other, and their ability to forgive and forget. God guys, I loved everything about this book. It was a simple story-line, but it was never boring. The romance was the cutest thing ever, and the journeys that both Austin and Marisa have were worth everything that they went through.