This Gorgeous Gameby Donna Freitas
Seventeen-year-old Olivia Peters is absolutely over the moon when her literary idol, the celebrated novelist and much-adored local priest Mark D. Brendan, selects her from hundreds of other applicants as the winner of his writing contest. Not only is she invited to take his class at the local university; she also gets one-on-one sessions with him to polish her
Seventeen-year-old Olivia Peters is absolutely over the moon when her literary idol, the celebrated novelist and much-adored local priest Mark D. Brendan, selects her from hundreds of other applicants as the winner of his writing contest. Not only is she invited to take his class at the local university; she also gets one-on-one sessions with him to polish her story and prepare it for publication. But the writing sessions escalate into emails, and texts, and IMs, and gifts, and social events. What was once a delightful opportunity has become a dreadful burden. What kind of game is Father Mark playing? And how on earth can she get out of it?
“Young women who have found themselves the object of obsession will relate to the protagonist’s ordeal and be inspired by her decision to speak out no matter the consequences.”—Publishers Weekly
“This novel will resonate with teens who struggle with what appear to be impossible situations and come to terms with the desire to receive attention however unwanted it may be.”—School Library Journal
“Figuring out when attention has become inappropriate is a tough call for people of all ages, and this will engender a lot of discussion among readers on the issue, making it particularly suitable for a book-club entry.”—Bulletin of the Center for Children’s Books
“The book could be used to spark discussion about keeping secrets and setting boundaries.”—VOYA
“A remarkable book that will speak not just to teens, but to women of all ages.”—Sara Zarr, author of National Book Award Finalist Story of a Girl
“A riveting portrayal of the corruption of power and, ultimately, the triumph of innocence.”—Francisco Stork, author of Marcelo in the Real World
“A powerful story about attention, expectations, faith, and trust. It’s about the power of authority, and the abuse of that power. It’s also about the love of writing, and of family and friends. Most importantly, it’s about speaking up when you know something is wrong.”—Bildungsroman Book Blog
Read an Excerpt
This Gorgeous Game
By Donna Freitas
Farrar, Straus and GirouxCopyright © 2010 Donna Freitas
All rights reserved.
I KNOW I KNOW I KNOW I SHOULD BE GRATEFUL. I SHOULD be grateful to have his attention. To have him take such an interest in me.
I should. I know I should.
I will. No, you are grateful, Olivia, I tell myself as if I am my self's imaginary friend, sitting across the table, giving advice. Start acting grateful then, she begs.
I have a gift. I have a gift from God, he says. So rare he hasn't seen it in all his many years. I'm the real thing, he says. I'm a once in a lifetime, he says. I'm special and it's his responsibility to take me under his wing, to make sure I don't waste my talent. It would be a sin not to help me, he says. It would be a sin for me not to take his offer of help.
But I swear to God ... no ... scratch that ... I'll not be swearing to God ... I swear to Who Knows What that his latest demand, this pile of typewritten pages he hands me with a face that says, Please, Olivia, oh please don't be difficult and just do this for me, is staring, no, it's glaring at me from the coffee table like a monster that might eat me. I feel like if I touch it I will go up in flames or the pages might bite.
Am I making too much of this? Isn't it just a matter of grabbing hold of the stack and moving it in front of my eyes so my eyes will begin to scan those black marks on the page which will magically arrange themselves into words that my brain will recognize and understand and voilà, I'm finished before I know it?
Then, when he asks, because he will ask, I'll be able to answer truthfully, "Yes, I read it. I did," and he will smile and I'll be Good Olivia again.
I wish I'd never won that stupid prize which is what got me noticed by him ... no ... what got my writing noticed by him which is what led to the initial introduction which somehow turned into communications and invitations and coffees and attending office hours and going to High Profile Events together — his words — even before the summer started.
He means well. He does. After all, what else could he mean?
"Olivia," my mother calls from downstairs. "Time for dinner. I made your favorite. Come on, sweetie."
"Be there in a minute," I yell back to her. The thought Saved by dinner passes through my mind. If it's not dinner that saves me lately, it's sleep, and if it's not sleep it's, oh, I don't know, cleaning my room, scrubbing the toilet. Just about anything sounds more appealing than dealing with some God Damn demand fromhim.
There. I did it. I took the Lord's name in vain and it doesn't feel half bad.
My cell phone rings. I don't pick up. I don't even look to see who is calling. I don't need to. I already know who it is and I already know I don't want to talk. The phone stops ringing and I remember to breathe. It rings again and I want to throw it. I don't. I look away. I shove the phone down between the couch cushions to muffle it. Suffocate it. Now a ping! tells me I have a text.
I start to get up but still staring at me from the coffee table is this story I've got to read. I give the stack a good glare back — two can play at that game. But as soon as my eyes hit the title page I feel regret because seeing it makes something in my stomach go queasy. Ruins my appetite.
Gratitude, gratitude, gratitude. I will myself to feel gratitude with all of my being but my being revolts. I grab the stack and slam it facedown as if I can make it all go away.CHAPTER 2
I FEEL DISBELIEF.
That's how it starts: with a pervasive sense of this cannot be happening and thinking that no one is going to believe me when I tell them because I don't even believe it myself. The thought Mom is going to freak when she finds out races through me in a wave of giddiness.
There I am in seventh period AP calc and Ms. Lewis is drawing tangent lines on the board and her arm and the chalk slope up, up, up and there is a knock and the door opens and Sister June our principal is standing there and I see the expression on her face and I know. I know. I know it right then. Sister June's eyes are on me and suddenly I can't remember anything about the slope of the tangent.
"I need Olivia Peters in the office right away," Sister June says with unmistakable joy and I am already shutting my notebook and textbook and shoving them into my bag because a girl can hope — sometimes a girl can't help but hope, you know? I try not to look at any of my classmates, who are staring, especially Ashley and Jada because they know I've been waiting, counting the days until May, but as usual my two best friends get the best of me so I glance in their direction.
They take turns holding up a series of notebook pages. Like flashcards. Back and forth. Quick. Practiced. As if they already know, too.
Just remember ... says the first, flipped up by Jada ...
You are poised ... says the second, courtesy of Ash ...
and beautiful ...
Thank you, I mouth, feeling touched they've put on such a show but still trying not to allow my mind to go there, when Sister June inquires, "Olivia?" and Ms. Lewis wonders, "Miss Williams and Miss Ling, is there something you'd like to share with the rest of us? Hmmm?" and I follow Sister June out the door. I am too nervous to smile so instead I stare at the dark blue folds of Sister June's habit and try to squelch the feeling of hope bubbling up in me because surely it will be dashed to bits when I get to her office and she tells me something anticlimactic like —"We are so pleased you've never missed a day of school in all your years at Sacred Heart!"— which is true, or —"You passed the AP English exam and will be getting college credit!"— not that I wouldn't be happy with this information, but let's face it, it's notthat news I want to hear.
Sister June and I walk down the hall with its long line of lockers on either side, their red paint so chipped that if I use only my peripheral vision they look like giant abstract paintings. Sister June's skirt rustles with every step, making the only sound besides the soft pat, pat, pat of my black ballet flats and the purposeful tread of her thick, rubber-soled nun shoes against the carpet, so worn it's impossible to tell what color it used to be when it was new. Every few feet Sister June glances my way and I detect the trace of a smile on her pursed lips and my heart quickens until it is beating so fast I imagine it is racing the fifty-yard dash and has left my body at the starting line.
Please, God, let it be what I think it is.
Sister June stops short because we are at the office entrance and I am so startled I almost knock her over. She looks up at me and her cheeks are flushed with pride and not makeup because nuns don't wear makeup, and she clasps my hands between her soft, wrinkled ones and whispers, "Oh, Olivia, your life is about to change," and that's when I notice her eyes are shiny and that's also when I know I know beyond a shadow of a doubt what is waiting on the other side of the door.
Who is waiting.
Sister June grasps the knob, twisting it. With one hand on my back she guides me or maybe encourages me or even ensures that I don't run away because this is my big moment, and we enter the reception area as a united front and just like that it happens, the same way I've been imagining and daydreaming all these months ever since the contest was announced in October and Ms. Gonzalez, my English lit teacher, encouraged me to enter it.
There he is. In the flesh. In person.
Looking at me.
I've never been this close to him before and I am struck by the tiny lines that web from his smiling eyes, the gleam from his perfect white teeth, his thick salt-and-pepper hair, the size of his hands, so large, the hands of a strong man. Everything about him seems to glow from within and soon I am aware that I am not the only person in the room who finds this visitor striking.
The reception staff surrounds him like he is a movie star or some other kind of celebrity or maybe even God come down from heaven to ask, Hello how is everybody doing? He is speaking but I can't focus on the words, I am only aware that Ms. Jones who does the school attendance is nodding her head, "Yes, yes. Yes, yes, of course," as he talks, and Ms. Aronson who does class registration is murmuring, "Hmmhmmm," softly over and over, and Ms. Gonzalez is saying, "Oh my. This is wonderful. Wonderful! Qué bien! I knew she had it in her!" and beaming like she has just won teacher of the year or maybe even a Pulitzer Prize. Him, well, he looks younger in person than in the photos on his book jackets and when you see him on television, and maybe this is why all the women look at him with such admiration. Or is it adoration?
The door creaks as Sister June shuts it behind us.
Everyone turns in our direction and for a moment there is silence.
"You must be Olivia," he says then. His deep voice booms. "Olivia Peters!"
I open my mouth but nothing comes out.
"I'm Mark. Mark Brendan," he says, crossing the room with all the energy and confidence you'd expect from someone like him, extending his hand to shake mine, which Sister June passes from hers to his because I am frozen — after all, you don't meet your idol every day — and then he is grasping my hand with an enthusiasm that is thrilling and finally, finally, the biggest smile that has ever met the lips on my face breaks through and I say, "I can't believe you are here."
And just like that, we meet.
He and I meet and everything ... it all ... begins.
"It isn't because you won honorable mention, either." He smiles, looking down at me because he is at least a head taller. And I am tall.
"Wow, wow ... I just never expected ..." I say, because I've always loved writing but I didn't really think it would amount to anything. Still, I'm not going to deny that I've always wanted this and my mother — she's a writer, too — she's always said I have it in me. But if there is such a thing as divine intervention, of God whispering to us extraordinary things, I've no doubt that God whispers to him the words that have moved critics to claim he is one of the greatest writers of our time. "So, honorable mention," I repeat after him, trying to focus.
"That's not why you're here, Father?"
And he says, "Please, call me Mark."
So I respond, "Okay, Father Mark," and look up at him, hopeful.
"I did go to meet the honorable mentions in person, too," Father Mark adds because he is charming and obviously a good, kind person. "But that's not why I am here, Olivia."
The way he says my name, it sounds like music, beautiful music that I listen to at the symphony, and I wish he would keep saying "Olivia ... Olivia ... Olivia" with his emphasis on the O as in Oh-liv-ee-aah and not a-livia the way most people pronounce it with a short a, as if my name begins with an article and I am this object named "Livia," like liver or just live.
Everyone is silent, waiting. Ms. Gonzalez's eyes well with tears. Ms. Aronson's cheeks flush and her body twists back and forth, arms wrapped around her middle like a girl with a crush. Ms. Jones keeps saying, "My, my ... my, my, my ..." with her hands clasped against her heart. Only Sister June seems unfazed — happy, yes, but somehow unruffled. Maybe this is a skill she learned as a nun, to be unmoved by handsome men, handsome priests. I wonder why everyone else doesn't act like Sister June does.
Like I do.
Like he is a man of God.
My dad's been out of the picture for more than a decade, but my older sister, Greenie, and I have had plenty of other dads over the years, it's just that everyone calls them Fathers instead of Dads and they are married to the Catholic Church. Priests have been coming to our house since I was little for lunch, tea, Sundays after mass, making sure Mom was okay on her own taking care of us and one big now-empty-of-a-husband house. Greenie and I, we took to these stand-in dads like kids to candy.
Now another one, another Father walks into my life.
"Congratulations on winning the first annual Emerging Writers High School Fiction Prize, Olivia." Father Mark D. Brendan makes it official, his voice like velvet, and I want to reach out and smooth my hand across those words as they ripple the air. "In addition to getting your story published," he says, pausing, drawing the moment out, letting the strength of his connections sink in, "you will receive a $10,000 scholarship to the college of your choice, and of course, a spot in my HMU summer fiction seminar."
"My sister is a junior at Holy Mary University," I say, as if this matters and because I can't think of anything else, trying to stay calm, feet firm on the floor, resisting the urge to jump up and down because I want to appear older than my seventeen years and poised, like Ashley and Jada said I am.
"It was an easy decision."
Easy, he says. An easy decision.
Sunlight streams through the only window, its rays landing in the space between us, and I see him through the specs of dust that shine like glitter in the light.
"Your writing reveals a maturity beyond your years," he says, his eyes locking on mine for an instant, and then looks at his watch. He holds up an arm sheathed in the black shirt of a priest, the white collar around his neck providing the only contrast against this dark, sacred uniform. "But we'll have to continue this conversation later. Olivia, ladies, Sister June, I must be off." One by one, he nods at each person in the room, at each of us one last time, and I want to shout, Don't go! Stay! but I don't. "I'll be in touch again soon, Olivia, to discuss where we go from here. It was truly a pleasure."
Before I can say another word, a thank you, or even a see you later, Father Mark is at the door, opening it to leave, and I become aware that our entire encounter has taken barely a couple of minutes, though for me, the time goes by like a dream in slow motion. I wonder whether he means what he says, about being in touch again soon, but this question is answered almost immediately.
Before he leaves the room, before he goes, he turns and smiles and looks at me like I am a gift from God, and for a moment I feel like maybe I am.CHAPTER 3
WARM AIR TICKLES THE SKIN ON MY ARMS AND LEGS AS I walk home from school and I laugh out loud because I am happy. Carefree and wound up. At a stoplight I take a moment to breathe deep, inhaling the scent of flowering trees, leaning forward off the curb and fidgeting as if these small pushes and movements can will the signal to change from red to green and the blinking sign to Walk, like magic. The words I won swirl through my mind so fast they might slip right out and flutter off into the sky like a butterfly before I can catch them.
There were thousands of entries.
He picked me.
Walk says the street sign and I obey.
My cell pings with texts and I know it's Ash and Jada, but I am not quite ready to confirm what they suspect. For now I want to keep the news to myself, let it sink deep into the center of my thirsty soul like water in a garden.
Ping! Ping! Ping!
Maybe only a minute passes before I can't help myself any longer and I give in, digging the cell out of my bag and texting them, Come 4 dinner 2nite, BIG News (!!!!!!!!) SWAK, and then shove the phone back under my books. I look both ways then cross the street, heading along another block of town houses anchored by riotous springtime blooms packed into tiny city flower beds. I pass Berkeley Street, Clarendon Street — with its little park for small children but no dogs allowed — and Dartmouth Street which marks the halfway point between home and Sacred Heart, a journey I love when the weather is nice like today, but loathe in the slushy, icy muck that accumulates during a Boston winter. The sun is bright on my side of the street so I jaywalk to the center park that runs along Commonwealth Avenue, with its canopy of leafy trees that dapple the light. Pink petals fall from the blossoms above when they are shaken by the breeze and make a scattered springtime carpet across the grass. The beauty of the park reminds me of my story.
Excerpted from This Gorgeous Game by Donna Freitas. Copyright © 2010 Donna Freitas. Excerpted by permission of Farrar, Straus and Giroux.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.
Meet the Author
DONNA FREITAS’s first novel was The Possibilities of Sainthood, a Miami Herald Best Book of the Year. Her next book, The Survival Kit, will be available from FSG in Fall 2011. She lives in New York City.
Most Helpful Customer Reviews
See all customer reviews
3.5 stars. This Gorgeous Game would be emotional for anyone reading it. But for me it was a bit rougher, because the name of the head character. My Daughter's name is also Olivia, and while she is only a baby, this horrible tale could very much happen to her in the future. Or to anyone's daughter for the matter. This Gorgeous Game is an in depth look into what it is like to be stalked by someone you once idolized. In the beginning, it's obvious that Olivia holds Father Mark in the highest regards. Olivia wants to be writer someday, and Father Mark is exactly the kind of writer she wants to be. She is beyond thrilled to discover she has won a contest that allows her to spend time with her idol. It is for this reason that it takes so long for Olivia to come terms with what is really going on with Father Mark. Not to mention, priests have always filled the void in Olivia's life after her dad left. So she first mistakes Father Mark's attention as "fatherly". There were so many parts of this book that I just wanted to reach into the pages and get Olivia out of this crazy situation. I was first irritated that none of the other characters stepped in and put a stop to this. Wouldn't it send up a red flag how much time this guy is spending with a teenage girl? But this story reminded me of something. When someone holds the title of a celebrity, religious leader, or any other person one finds important, we tend to let them get away with a lot more. It's not right, but it does happen. However, when Olivia finally came open to her friends and family, they were very supportive of her and were there for her immediately. I was very happy to see that. I wished the supportive cast of characters would have been a little more developed, however they were still enjoyable to read about. Other than Olivia, Jamie was my favorite character. He was such a sweet and sincere guy. Scenes with him were a light, refreshing break to this otherwise serious and dark story. I also loved that the romance between these two moved at a steady and believable pace. Something else I enjoyed was reading about Olivia's very catholic family. It gave good insight on what it would be like to grow up that way. Of course this meant a lot of references to religion, but I felt the author did a great job of doing this without being pushy on religion. The emotions were powerful and raw. The author did a great job writing in a way that kept you in Olivia's head. The only thing that bugged me with the writing was the frequent run on sentences. It was done purposely to go with the flow of the story, but I found it a bit irritating. Of course this is an ARC, so that could change. In the end, I am glad I read This Gorgeous Game. It was an insightful story that pact a powerful punch. I just hope if girls (and boys) can take anything from this story, it's that you have people there for you! No matter who that it might be taking advantage of you in any way, never be afraid to seek out help!
This Gorgeous Game is an intense book written from the point of view of Olivia Peters, a seventeen year old girl who won a writing contest given by an important writer and local priest, Father Mark. But early on, you get the feeling that things are not all what they seem to be. Father Mark pays alot of attention to Olivia, calling her, texting her, sending things to her at school, at home. Reading this book you feel caught up in the tornado that Olivia feels she is in. More than once I put the book down, letting myself take a breath, get away. There are alot of books that have dealt with this subject in the past, but Ms. Freitas takes a look at the toll it takes on the victim, how everything that she once held dear falls away from her. I like the character of Jamie, hes the rock that she needs and I love the gentle romance that forms between them. Its the perfect thing to counter the very CREEPY Father Mark. I wish that Jada and Ash, her two best friends were more developed, but they are so supportive and caring just the way they are. This is really powerful, and I felt myself sigh when I got to the end, but I know this will stay with me for a long time.
In my opinion I think this was a very good book but the relationship between Olivia and Father Mark is kinda creepy. Scratch that VERY creepy! I heart Jamie in this book, he's so supportive of Olivia.
Olivia Peters is thrilled when she learns she won first prize in an Emerging Writers High School Fiction contest. This means she gets a spot in Father Mark Brendan's writing seminar at Holy Mary University. She is so excited to be chosen and have the attention of an admired writer that she is quick to dismiss the sense that it may all be a little too abnormal. She has Father Mark lavishing praise on her writing, she's caught the eye of college boy Jamie Grant, and life couldn't be better. But then things do start to feel rather weird and out-of-place, and Olivia's perfect life spins quickly out of control. This Gorgeous Game is a disturbing look at an inappropriate relationship. Though Father Mark's attention never becomes sinister, the reader will feel just as panicked and trapped as Olivia does. Freitas writes extremely beautiful prose on a very difficult subject, getting deep inside Olivia's thoughts and feelings. I think there are pieces to Olivia's life that all readers out there will be able to identify with. Plus, I loved the two best friends in Ash and Jada - Olivia is so lucky to have friends that love her so much! There are not many YA books written on this topic, and this book could stand as a cautionary tale for girls who might find themselves in a similar position as Olivia. A quick book that I read in one sitting. And though I breathed a sigh of relief when the last page was turned, it will haunt me in the years to come.