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Playing with Matches

Playing with Matches

4.5 12
by Brian Katcher

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SEVENTEEN-YEAR-OLD LEON SANDERS has a mug that looks like it should be hanging in a post office somewhere. If he didn’t have his twisted sense of humor, he’d have nothing at all. So it’s no wonder to Leon and his friends that the gorgeous Amy Green will never even look twice at him.
However, there is one girl who might: Melody Hennon. Everyone at


SEVENTEEN-YEAR-OLD LEON SANDERS has a mug that looks like it should be hanging in a post office somewhere. If he didn’t have his twisted sense of humor, he’d have nothing at all. So it’s no wonder to Leon and his friends that the gorgeous Amy Green will never even look twice at him.
However, there is one girl who might: Melody Hennon. Everyone at Zumner High keeps their distance from Melody because she was burned in a childhood accident. Leon has avoided her, too, until the day he tells her a bad joke and makes her laugh. Although Leon worries what people will think of him dating Melody, he’s happy to have someone in his life who thinks he’s special. That is, happy until Amy Green asks him out after Leon saves her from getting detention. Will Leon give up a shot with the Beauty so that he can live the fairy tale with the Beast?

From the Hardcover edition.

Editorial Reviews

VOYA - Jamie S. Hansen
Leon Sanders is going to get burned. The seventeen-year-old narrator is dorky and not especially handsome, but his fondest wish is to date beautiful, popular Amy Green. In the meantime, he begins chatting with his new locker neighbor, Melody Henno, the outcast girl with a grotesquely burned face, making her laugh at his lame jokes. Gradually he discovers that beneath her scars, Melody is a warm, witty person, who shares his affinity for Monty Python, bad jokes, and The Twilight Zone. She becomes the friend and confidant Leon has never had. As their friendship moves into a new dimension, Leon receives an unexpected invitation from Amy. Although he knows breaking up with Melody will cause her great pain, he cannot give up his newfound prestige as Amy's date. Playing with hearts is as hazardous as playing with matches. In his debut novel, Katcher serves up an unsubtle blend of romance and humor, some definitely of the gross-out variety. Young adult readers will enjoy Leon's romantic woes, even though the author's message is sometimes annoyingly obvious. Melody, despite her scarred face, is empathetic, smart, and sexy. Amy, despite her beauty, is a chain-smoking, shallow slob. Leon's inability to realize that relationships based on friendship and shared interests are best is particularly maddening. Despite the book's flaws, older teens will find much to enjoy in this amusing and sometimes poignant cautionary tale of the dangers from fires both real and symbolic. Reviewer: Jamie S. Hansen
Children's Literature - Barbara L. Talcroft
Seventeen-year-old Leon Sanders has always thought of himself as a nerd, confined himself to a small group of outsider friends, and has no idea how to approach a girl. Too bad, since he would love to date beautiful Amy, who has not even looked at him since middle school! In his first novel, Katcher starts by introducing his teen characters with the obligatory gross talk, obsession with sex, and utter lack of interest in anything academic. Before long, though, the story opens out and so does our perception of Leon. When he encounters Melody, who has been disfigured in a childhood fire, Leon's life begins to change; the story explores the age-old themes of love and lust, sacred and profane love, and the perception of beauty (not to mention the male ego). Katcher allows his characters to develop and reveal themselves in sometimes surprising ways: Leon is often self-perceptive even as he tries to deceive himself, caught between his attraction to Melody (who is stronger than anyone imagined) and his irresistible longing for Amy, the unattainable. When Amy finally does notice him, his bliss turns to torment as he finds her shallow, thoughtless, and addicted to shopping, but even Amy has her sorrows and her vulnerability. Leon is an appealing character—sharp, funny, conflicted, and guilty—leaving you to wonder where he will be in ten years' time. Melody will, no doubt, have published at least one book. Told with honesty, humor, and compassion, Leon's tale makes an impressive debut for Katcher. Reviewer: Barbara L. Talcroft
School Library Journal

Gr 8 Up

Leon Sanders, 17, a self-described geek, craves the attention of perfection-personified Amy Green, who consistently ignores him. Resigned to life on the fringes of his suburban high school, he takes comfort in knowing that another junior scores zero for popularity: Melody Hennon, whose severely burned face has made her an outcast. When Leon tells Melody a bad joke and gets a genuine laugh, he is surprised to find an actual person behind the scars, and soon discovers that she shares his interests and offbeat humor. When Melody confides the details of her childhood accident, he tells her about a humiliating encounter with a bully that left him emotionally scarred. As their friendship turns to romance, Leon worries about the opinions of others, but people are accepting of their relationship. Then Leon finally catches Amy's eye. Faced with a dilemma, he allows himself to be lured away from the devastated Melody, but is soon overwhelmed by the emotional consequences. Leon's self-deprecating, ironic humor keeps an authentic edge running through the story as he explores new relationships and roles, and wrestles with doing the right thing. Melody is a resilient young woman whose experience with Leon helps her develop self-confidence. This is a strong debut novel with a cast of quirky, multidimensional characters struggling with issues of acceptance, sexuality, identity, and self-worth.-Joyce Adams Burner, Hillcrest Library, Prairie Village, KS

Kirkus Reviews
A loner goes from hero to zero after dating and dumping the school outcast. When 17-year-old self-professed nerd Leon Sanders is paired for a class project with Melody Hennon, a classmate whose face has been disfigured from a childhood burn accident, he discovers they share a passion for Monty Python, The Twilight Zone and fan fiction. The two quickly fall into a comfortable relationship, despite Leon's reservations about Melody's scars. But when beautiful, popular Amy Green starts giving him come-hither glances, Leon trades in love for looks, only to realize too late he may have lost his soul mate. Katcher realistically plumbs the depths of the tortured teenage male soul ("What if they both had pig faces? Then my choice would be easy") while tempering Leon's internal angst with plenty of laughs ("The following Monday I didn't wake up as a billionaire playboy secret agent, so I was forced to return to school"). In the spirit of Chris Crutcher's Staying Fat for Sarah Byrnes (1993) and David Yoo's Girls for Breakfast (2005), this tender, funny debut is "dude lit" at its best. (Fiction. YA)

Product Details

Random House Children's Books
Publication date:
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Random House
File size:
372 KB
Age Range:
14 - 17 Years

Read an Excerpt


"So I was reading this Vonnegut novel," I said to Samantha. "The main guy figures out that the number of people he's killed and the number of women he's slept with are the same."
Samantha didn't look up from her newspaper, as if she hadn't heard me. I went on.
"It was seventy-two."
Samantha pointedly turned a page. Every morning, we would repeat this ritual. She would sit at a cafeteria table, bottle of water to her left, low-fat bran muffin to her right, copy of the St. Louis Post in front of her. I would sit opposite and talk at her until she could no longer concentrate.
I continued my literary review. "So do you think that number's kind of high?"
Samantha folded her paper with a sigh. "For what, Leon? Killing people or sleeping around?"
Samantha always reminded me of a splinter of flint. She was narrow, hard, and angular. At seventeen, she was already a little old lady, with rimless glasses, short hair, and an enormous nose. Her breasts didn't sag, of course; she didn't really have any.
"Leon, how would I know? Why do you always want to discuss things like this?" She returned to her paper. The first-hour bell wouldn't ring for a few minutes, and I looked around the cafeteria for a distraction.
The Zummer High lunchroom was immense. Early-morning sunshine streamed pleasantly over us, thanks to some slanting windows near the ceiling. Now that spring was here, the windows turned the cafeteria into an unbearable greenhouse. At one end of the room, a poorly painted dog declared GO ZUMMER BULLDOGS! On the opposite wall, a portrait of General Montgomery Zummer glared at us over the soda machines. He'd once slaughtered many Indians on this very spot, back when St. Christopher, Missouri, was still just a frontier outpost.
Around us, teenagers poured into the school, back from spring break. A sea of white faces. Suburban students, all dressed in the same clothes, telling the same stories, sharing the same hive mind. If there was one thing more depressing than a suburban high school, it was a suburban high school in Missouri.
I turned back to Samantha. "You know, it's the same with me, Sam. I've killed and slept with the same number of people."
She didn't look at me. "A nice, round number, Leon?" She drew a zero in the air with her finger.
"It's bound to change."
Samantha took a swig of Evian. "Who are you planning on killing?"
I shoved the rest of her bran muffin into my mouth. Samantha had guessed my number correctly. Zero was the number of times I'd had sex. And the number of dates I'd had since the fall. Here it was, just after spring break of my junior year. I hadn't had a date since Angie Herber and I had made out after the homecoming game. She gave me the "just friends" speech the next day.
Why did every girl want to be my friend? They didn't even want that; Samantha was the only girl who came close to being my friend. Or my only friend who came close to being a girl.
The warning bell rang. Actually, it wasn't a bell but a long droning buzzer that grated on my nerves like an early-morning car alarm.
Students began to lumber to class. Samantha neatly separated her recyclables, grabbed her books, and walked away.
"Hey, Samantha," I hollered. "What's your number?"
She turned and indicated a digit with her middle finger.

Older high schools are architectural wonders, with the ornate exteriors, wooden trim, and murals by long-dead alumni. Newer schools are marvels of the twenty-first century, with gleaming metal fixtures, air-conditioning, and toilets that flushed.
Monty Zummer had been built in the 1960s. That meant blocky. Ugly. Cramped. Three generations of Zummer students had attended what was essentially an enormous bomb shelter. We used to joke that a busload of mental patients was accidentally delivered to MZH and it took them two weeks to realize they weren't in an asylum. The asylum served better food.
I stopped by my locker to get my stuff for chemistry class. There were almost two thousand students at this school, and half of them were female. So how come whenever I asked a girl if I could have the privilege of paying for her food and entertainment she always said no? Aside from the fact she didn't want to kiss me.
When I was in junior high, I was a nerd. The kind of guy everyone picked on. The last one chosen for teams in gym class. Now, after years of struggle, I'd succeeded in becoming an unknown. And when no girl knew you existed, odds were they wouldn't be receptive when you tried to get them horizontal.
Of course, my looks didn't exactly make girls turn their heads and drop their pants. At only five foot six, I had to look up at many of the girls at school. Puberty had come and gone without leaving me so much as a chest hair or a whisker. And my face . . . Some guys are just born handsome. I had a mug that looked like it should be hanging in a post office somewhere, with the title wanted for shoplifting and credit card fraud.
Instead of wavy brown hair, I had stringy locks the color of old hay. When I wore a hat, I looked like a scarecrow. I'd inherited my father's generous ears but not his noble nose. I was stuck with my mother's petite button nose.
And then there were my eyes. Some guys had steely blue orbs that, despite any physical shortcoming, could just freeze a woman in her tracks and hypnotize her with their raw power. I had two beady brown eyes that, no matter how hard I tried to look mysterious and cool, always seemed to say "It wasn't me who just farted."
I kicked my locker shut. Three billion women in the world, and the universe couldn't spare one for Leon Sanders.
"Excuse me?"
Female voice! I swirled, waiting to see whatever gorgeous teenage queen wanted my attention.
Disappointed wasn't the word. I was . . .
Okay, disappointed was the word.

From the Hardcover edition.

Meet the Author

Brian Katcher is a school librarian and lives in Missouri with his wife and baby daughter.

From the Paperback edition.

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Playing with Matches 4.6 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 12 reviews.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Highly reccomend it!
Gabriela_Iris More than 1 year ago
This book was well written and very relatable. It deals with the question that plagues us all at one point or another: should I go for the person I could spend forever drooling over or someone I can actually talk to?
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Kenna Roland More than 1 year ago
this book teaches you that you mever know whatcha got till its gone.. i really liked how it was writen and a recomend it to teens.. very good:)
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Miss_Snazzy More than 1 year ago
I LOVED this book. I honestly couldn't put it down. This book follows a boy named Leon who is tired of being alone. He befriends an outcast named Melody, who suffered an accident when she was younger that left her physically deformed. Meanwhile, it seems that the popular girl he has always had his eye on is finally noticing him. This story is both hilarious and sad as it explores common aspects of high school--teasing, love triangles, and discovering yourself. Katcher writes Leon's perspective in a way that really brings the character to life. This story begs the question "Is beauty really in the eye of the beholder?" and when given the opportunity, would you choose the one that's beautiful on the inside, or out?
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Ubon More than 1 year ago
This is an outstanding book. It deal with the real world issues of physical attraction vs quality of person. Brian Katcher does a masterful job of weaving these real emotions of conflict: Attractiveness vs heart. I will buy every book that Brian Katcher writes. I picked up the book and could not put it down. The authors knows how to keep you going.
Hayden_Y More than 1 year ago
Brian Katcher's debut novel, Playing with Matches, was a fantastic read. I constantly found myself laughing out loud to the hilarious remarks and actions of the well-written characters. From the view point of a typical teenage boy desperately wanting attention from anyone of the female race (besides his own mother), readers get a chance to read into the mind of Leon as he goes through a dilemma of choosing between the girl with the perfect looks or the girl with the scars...
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Guest More than 1 year ago
This book took me back to my school days. The author described teenage issues in a way that gave me flashbacks to my own 'end of the world' issues I faced. I felt sympathy for Leon as he struggled to make the right decisions and shared in his invisible victories when he made decisions that I didn't have the guts to make at that age. I definitely recommend this book to young and 'mature' adults!