Playing for Keeps

Playing for Keeps

4.2 7
by Joan Lowery Nixon

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For fans of Gillian Flynn, Caroline Cooney, and R.L. Stine comes Playing for Keeps from four-time Edgar Allen Poe Young Adult Mystery Award winner Joan Lowery Nixon.
        Rose Ann can’t believe her good luck. Her grandmother, Glory, needs a last-minute roommate for her bridge-tournament cruise to the Caribbean.


For fans of Gillian Flynn, Caroline Cooney, and R.L. Stine comes Playing for Keeps from four-time Edgar Allen Poe Young Adult Mystery Award winner Joan Lowery Nixon.
        Rose Ann can’t believe her good luck. Her grandmother, Glory, needs a last-minute roommate for her bridge-tournament cruise to the Caribbean. But Glory doesn’t really need a companion. She’s eager for Rosie to meet her friend’s grandson, Neil, a brainy guy full of facts about baseball, among other things. Once Rosie is aboard the ship, though, someone else catches her eye—a boy her own age, who introduces himself as Ricky Diago. But after the ship sails, something doesn’t seem quite right. Rosie sees only Ricky’s uncle, Mr. Diago. Even stranger, Neil swears that Mr. Diago is actually a famous Cuban baseball player from the Cincinatti Reds.
        Then, after a day excursion in Paradise Beach, Rosie is approached by another boy who claims he’s Ricky Diago. She’s certain he’s not the person she met at the beginning of the trip. Suddenly Rosie finds herself caught in a high-stakes game of international intrigue with life-or-death consequences. Who is the real Ricky Diago? And how far will Rosie go to help him?
        With her trademark expertise, Joan Lowery Nixon interweaves politics, baseball, and romance in a masterful novel of suspense on the high seas.
“[An] engaging mystery.” –Kirkus Reviews
“[A] fast-paced combination of suspense and romance.” –Booklist
“Satisfactory teen mystery.” –VOYA

From the Paperback edition.

Editorial Reviews

Spring break has just started when sixteen-year-old Rose Marstead is humiliated by being dumped by her date at a wild party. The ensuing discussion with her mom is interrupted by grandmother Glory, who offers to take Rose on a tropical cruise. Soon Rose and Glory depart west Texas for Miami. On board the ship, Glory starts playing matchmaker for her granddaughter and nerdish nice-guy Neil, grandson of a friend. Rose, however, falls in love with seventeen-year-old Ricky (Enrique) Urbino, a Cuban baseball player and asylum seeker. A mystery involving two murders soon develops, and Rose enlists the help of Neil and Julieta, a flirtatious Cuban-American teen and fellow passenger, to solve the murders and clear Ricky and his uncle. Rose and her cohorts investigate suspects, track down clues, solve the mysteries, and conspire to smuggle Ricky onto United States soil so he will have a chance to remain and not be sent back to Cuba. The author skillfully has included minor details that play a part in the plausible plot—blue shirts, loose rings, Hawaiian print shirts, and tropical hats. The characters are not developed thoroughly but are believable from a teen's point of view. Rose's growing maturity is seen through her musing about the earlier argument with her mom. She also comes to understand the tense relationship between her mom and Glory. The shipboard romance of Rose and Ricky parallels the Titanic movie with a less tragic outcome in this satisfactory teen mystery. VOYA CODES: 3Q 4P M J S (Readable without serious defects; Broad general YA appeal; Middle School, defined as grades 6 to 8; Junior High, defined as grades 7 to 9; Senior High, defined as grades 10 to 12). 2001,Delacorte, 200p, $15.95. Ages 12 to 18. Reviewer: Sherry York SOURCE: VOYA, August 2001 (Vol. 24, No. 3)
Children's Literature
Sixteen-year-old Rose, tired of nonstop fighting with her mom, agrees to accompany her grandmother, Glory, and her bridge club on a week-long Caribbean cruise. Rosie's best friend is convinced that Rosie will find love on the high seas, and when Rosie meets handsome teen Enrique at one of the ports of call, she thinks her friend might be right. When Enrique's mysterious uncle disappears and when Cuban police start looking for the boy, Rosie and her too-nerdy-to-be-desirable friend Neil decide to investigate. They discover that Enrique is a promising young Cuban baseball player, using the cruise as a means to reach the United States and find asylum. Rosie is determined to help Enrique escape, but when people close to Enrique start turning up dead, Rosie fears her own life may also be in danger. Although Rosie's relationship with Enrique builds too fast to be believable—she exchanges perhaps twenty words with the boy before declaring him "the love of her life"—the idealism that leads Rosie and Neil to help Enrique find freedom seems entirely plausible. Glory's bridge-playing senior citizen friends are not adequately differentiated, but this makes little difference to the main plot. The cruise ship setting is an effective venue for transporting what is essentially a classic country-house mystery into more exotic locales. 2001, Delacorte,
— Norah Piehl
Joan Lowery Nixon, a four-time Edgar Award winner, takes her many fans on a sea cruise fraught with political intrigue and a couple of murders. Our teen heroine, Rose Ann, has a tiff with her mother and is glad to go off on a cruise to the Caribbean with her grandmother. There she meets Neil, who doesn't appeal to her, and Ricky Diago, who does. Neil's a baseball buff and recognizes Ricky's uncle as a famous Cuban player from the Cincinnati Reds. Ricky turns out to be a young Cuban baseball star himself, on the run from Cuban authorities who want to capture him and return him to his Communist home. As an excuse they cite the murder of the man who helped Ricky escape his former island home. Ricky is locked in the ship's brig and Rose Ann and her other teen friends try to find out the truth. Nixon's novel is a nice combination of suspense (with no violence described) and romance (with a few chaste kisses). The story is easy to follow and Rose Ann is a feisty heroine. The story copes with the usual teen concerns—peer pressure, trouble with parents, being independent, budding romance. The book will appeal to teens who are Nixon fans. KLIATT Codes: JS—Recommended for junior and senior high school students. 2001, Random House, Dell Laurel Leaf, 197p.,
— Janet Julian
Kirkus Reviews
Sixteen-year-old Rose Ann, on a Caribbean cruise with her grandmother, becomes involved in the political intrigue surrounding the defection of Enrique, a teenaged Cuban baseball player. His uncle, a well-known major-leaguer who had previously defected from Cuba, has smuggled him on board. Rose discovers the plan and enlists the help of other teenagers to keep Enrique safely under wraps so that he can set foot on American soil. If he's captured at sea, he must be returned to Cuba. This is no lighthearted romp, for Enrique's entire future (and possibly his very life) is at stake. Cuban officials attempt to frame him for a murder, so they might arrest him and remove him from the ship. Other murders are committed and must be solved. Sprinkle in parent problems, romance, and a little teen angst and you have a fast-paced, engaging mystery. It is by no means a perfect example of the genre: some of the clues are a little obvious and several of the characters are one-dimensional. Story elements are introduced and then dropped with a thud, violating even the most basic concept of the red herring. However, Rose is a delightful character. She is observant, intelligent, compassionate, and downright plucky. Enrique's situation is compelling and timely. Nixon (Will's Story, not reviewed, etc.) has built a solid reputation as a master of mysteries for young teenagers, and in spite of its flaws, this one is sure to please her fans. (Fiction. 12-14)

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Random House Children's Books
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Read an Excerpt

I didn't have time to think about my argument with Mom until Glory and I were in the air on the way to Miami. Then I had too much time.

Glory--Gloria Marstead--was my grandmother on my father's side. Mom sometimes complained that Glory had a salt-and-pepper attitude to go with her salt-and-pepper hair and liked getting her own way.

I have to agree. In spite of the fact that Grandpa made a great deal of money way back during the oil boom and invested it wisely before he died, Glory had continued to work as a successful attorney until she retired a year earlier.

"Defending people gives her an excuse to argue," I once heard Mom telling Dad. He thought what Mom said was funny. So did I. But Mom wasn't trying to be funny.

In the seat beside me Glory gave a light snore. I glanced at her, expecting her to wake up, but she continued to sleep peacefully. We'd had to catch a very early plane at the Midland-Odessa airport to connect with our flight out of Houston. I was tired, too, but there was no way I could sleep--not after the argument, which had never been resolved.

I couldn't help being excited about going with Glory on a week's cruise in the Caribbean, but deep down inside I had a sick feeling. I should have made peace with Mom before I left. I had wanted to, but I didn't know what to say or do, and Mom was so frozen in her own unhappiness I couldn't begin to reach her, even if I'd known how. I wasn't the only one at fault, I told myself. She had let me go without trying to break through that layer of ice.

The argument had started over a party I should never have gone to with a guy I hoped to totally forget.

"When you first saw what the party was like, Rose Ann, why didn't you ask your date to take you home?" Mom had asked.

I'd blushed and stared down at the scuffed toes of my sneakers. "Cam Daly wasn't . . . well, I found out that he only asked me to the party because a girl he likes was going to be there. Mom, he dumped me. I felt so stupid. I thought everybody was staring at me and thinking I was a real loser, so I tried to act like I was having a good time celebrating spring break and didn't care."

Mom had just sighed and asked, "Rose Ann, you need to act with maturity. Aren't you ever going to stand up for what you believe in? Where is your courage?"

I'd groaned, knowing what was coming. "Are you going to bring up that time ages ago when Bobby Mac cheated from my test?"

"It wasn't ages ago. It was last September. You allowed him to see your paper and got caught doing it. And what about when Lou drove all of you in her family's car and you knew very well she didn't have her license yet. Why didn't you object?"

I'd slid another notch down on the sofa. "Do we have to go into all that again?"

"I'm trying to show you that it was the same situation with the party last night," Mom had said. "Be independent. Don't just go along with the crowd because of what somebody might think of you. Last night you abused my trust in you and the freedom I've given you."

"Trust? Mom, I made one little mistake. Can't you believe it was just a mistake? As for freedom--"

That was when Glory had arrived, making herself at home on the sofa. She'd heard all about the wild party. "There isn't anyone in west Texas who doesn't know every detail," Glory said. "Especially since someone had to call the police."

She shrugged as she added, "That boy you went to the party with is not the kind you want to date. You want the right kind."

Mom broke in. Her voice was tight as she said, "It doesn't matter who was Rose Ann's date at the party. It only matters that she used very poor judgment."

Glory gave a more elaborate shrug. "Well, there you have it," she said. "Poor judgment. Certainly not a punishable offense. Rosie's suffered enough already. Why don't we talk about something I have in mind?"

Mom had been trying hard to hide her impatience. "Later, Glory," she'd said. "If you'll please excuse us, Rose Ann and I are not through with our family discussion. If you understood--"

"I understand one thing, Linda, which is while we're sitting here beating a dead horse, we're running out of time, and that's what we don't have much of. Let me borrow Rosie for a week."

Startled, Mom said, "But you won't be here. You're going on that Caribbean cruise with your bridge club."

That was when Glory told us she wanted to substitute me for her bridge club roommate, who was going to have foot surgery and couldn't make the cruise. "I'll take care of expenses. Rosie will be my guest."

"But you're leaving tomorrow morning."

Glory grinned. "Have you ever known me to be unable to do something I wanted to do? Don't worry. My travel agent's working on it already. All Rosie will need are her driver's license and birth certificate, T-shirts and shorts, and a couple of dresses she can wear to dinner. Toss in that cream-colored satin formal she wore to the winter prom. One dinner is formal dress."

I gasped, trying to take in what Glory was saying as she began giving Mom all the reasons why I should go with her, and explaining that I'd be perfectly safe on the ship while she was playing in the bridge tournament. My heart began to pound. A Caribbean cruise? Tomorrow?

I knew I shouldn't beg as I turned to Mom, but I couldn't help it. "I've never seen the ocean. I've never been out of Texas. I know you're angry with me, Mom, but please may I go?"

Mom had thought a moment, her face pale and tight. "I can't let you do this, Glory," she'd said.

"Who are you punishing, Linda?" Glory had bluntly asked. "Rosie or me?"

I could hear Mom's sharp intake of breath. Even though I really wanted to go on this cruise, I had to admit that Glory didn't always play fair.

It had been like this ever since Dad had died when I was fourteen, leaving a stack of medical bills. Glory had paid them and had even paid off the mortgage for the house we lived in. When Mom said my ballet lessons didn't fit the budget, they were paid for. There was our membership in a swim club Mom couldn't afford, new dresses for me from Glory's favorite shops . . . the list was a long one. Mom protested, but Glory always won.

This time was no different. Mom looked at me with her eyes burning, then quickly turned her head and said to Glory, "I'll have her ready."

After Glory had left, Mom walked to the end of the room, staring out the windows overlooking the backyard. Her voice dropped, as if she were speaking to herself. "Glory's once again the fairy godmother, and I'm the Wicked Witch of the West. She's won, as usual."

I backed a step away. "You're wrong," I said. "You act like you and Glory are in some kind of contest over me, and you're not."

I should have stopped there, but I blurted out, "You blamed me for not being independent and not standing up for what I believe in, but you don't either. You do what Glory wants you to do. You care what Glory thinks."

Now I've done it, I thought. I've ruined everything. I took a deep breath and said to Mom, "I'm sorry about the party, Mom. You're right. I should have telephoned to ask you to take me home. If I'd known that one of their neighbors would call the police--"

"That's your only reason?"

"No--no," I stammered in surprise. "That's not what I meant."

"That's what you said."

From the Paperback edition.

Meet the Author

Joan Lowery Nixon was the author of more than 130 books for young readers and was the only four-time winner of the Edgar Allan Poe Best Young Adult Mystery Award. She received the award for The Kidnapping of Christina LattimoreThe SéanceThe Name of the Game Was Murder, and The Other Side of the Dark, which also won the California Young Reader Medal. Her historical fiction included the award-winning series The Orphan Train Adventures, Orphan Train Children, and Colonial Williamsburg: Young Americans.

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Playing for Keeps 4.3 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 7 reviews.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Guest More than 1 year ago
Sixteen year old Rosie is going on a cruise with her grandmother. On the cruise she is facing life-or-death.
Guest More than 1 year ago
Playing for Keeps was a great book. It was very interesting and kept my attention the entire time. I would definetely recommend it.
Guest More than 1 year ago
Playing for Keeps is one of my favorite Joan Lowry Nixon Books. You never want to put it down. She is such a spectacular writer
Guest More than 1 year ago
This book is really good.Joan lowery nixon was such a great writer.This was the second one of hers i read,now i'm on my sixth and they all have been really good.
Guest More than 1 year ago
this book was amazingly thrilling. it is good for a rainy day.