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This Gorgeous Game
This Gorgeous Game
Donna Freitas
Farrar, Straus and Giroux (BYR), 2010
224 pp., $16.99

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Stranger in a Strange Land: John Wilson


This Gorgeous Game

The title of this teen novel by Donna Freitas comes from the journals of Thomas Merton, several extracts from which serve as epigraphs in the course of the book. Here is the first, which precedes the main text and sets the stage for all that follows:

I simply have no business being [in] love and playing around with a girl, however innocently … After all I am supposed to be a monk with a vow of chastity and though I have kept my vow—I wonder if I can keep it indefinitely and still play this gorgeous game!

Freitas is assistant professor of religion at Boston University. Her books include Sex and the Soul: Juggling Sexuality, Spirituality, Romance, andReligion on America's College Campuses and a study of Philip Pullman. Her first YA novel, The Possibilities of Sainthood, was published in 2008 by Farrar, Straus and Giroux.

This Gorgeous Game centers on Olivia Peters, who is completing her junior year at a Catholic high school in Boston as the book begins. Olivia, who narrates her own story, is both exceptionally bright and beautiful. She learns at the outset that she is the winner of the First Emerging Writers High School Fiction Prize, endowed and personally chosen by Father Mark Brendan, a Catholic priest—fiftyish, handsome and charismatic—who is himself a bestselling novelist. Along with a scholarship, the prize gives Olivia a coveted spot in Father Mark's summer fiction seminar at Holy Mary University, where her sister, Greenie, is a junior.

Even without the framing provided by the Merton epigraphs, it would be immediately apparent to the reader that something is seriously wrong with Father Mark. He positively oozes narcissism, and soon his interest in Olivia is revealed as both selfish and obsessive. Olivia herself is much slower to acknowledge the meaning of the warning signals she's picking up, and that hesitation is entirely plausible, especially since her affectionate and close-knit family (her father walked out ten years earlier) is not merely ...

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