Tuesday, October 26, 2010

Review - Playing with Matches by Brian Katcher

Summary: (via Goodreads)Some guys are born handsome, but seventeen-year-old Leon Sanders has a mug that looks like it should be hanging in a post office with the caption “wanted for shoplifting and credit card fraud”. Thanks to his twisted sense of humor, he’s managed to go from nerdy to unknown. Leon’s new locker neighbor is Melody Hennon, an unfortunate girl whose face was horribly disfigured from a childhood accident. When Leon takes a chance and makes her laugh, he discovers that underneath the scarred skin, Melody is a funny, smart, and interesting person. Leon never predicted that he and Melody would become good friends…and maybe more.

This book has a really interesting storyline. A boy outcast meets a girl outcast; they become friends, and eventually start dating. But, aside from all the regular issues faced by the average teenage couple, Leon and Melody have to deal with something else, something that’s practically impossible to ignore no matter how hard either of them tries. They have to deal with the issue of her face, which is unattractively covered with scar tissue from a freak fire accident she suffered as a child.
I don’t know what I was really expecting from the story when I first read the back-flap. I half thought that Melody’s disfigurement wouldn’t be that terrible, or that even if it was, Leon would be this really wonderful, big-hearted guy whose sole purpose in the story would be to provide unconditional love, allowing Melody to finally face those inner demons she harbors over her appearance. And that maybe later, she would even get the chance to undergo some miraculous skin-grafting surgery that would restore her physical beauty (quite fairy tale-ish of me, I know.)
Well, Brian Katcher had a whole host of different (and better) ideas about where the plotline Playing with Matches ought to go. Instead of the non-superficial teenage hero I was expecting, Leon’s character is created true to any hormonal seventeen year old high school junior. He is superficial, he cares about beauty, and Melody’s disfigurement bothers him. Despite the strong feelings of attraction he feels toward Melody’s personality, the repulsive feelings he has about her appearance are stronger still, turning him into a flighty and noncommittal boyfriend.
Meanwhile, Melody issues about her disfigurement aren’t that different from Leon’s. Appearance means a lot in most situation, and Melody has had to learn that the hardest way possible. At age seventeen, she has never had a friend, let alone a boyfriend, until Leon comes into her life. This fact alone makes her cling to him as hard as she can for as long as she can. Melody’s desperation becomes so strong that she’s willing to forgive a lot of Leon’s transgressions to keep their relationship going.
Unexpectedly, I found myself charmed by this book. I loved the harshness in Leon’s inability to accept Melody scarred face. Heck, if I had to be completely honest, I would have to admit that I wasn’t quite able to swallow Melody’s appearance either (yes, it’s truly shameful how I assume that beautiful people are going to jump out of the pages of the books I read) and so I never truly blamed Leon for the selfish actions he took in the given circumstances. I also loved the lopsided statuses Leon and Melody occupied in their relationship. Even though Leon was a nobody, Melody was less than that and therefore dependent of Leon for some sort of high school social strata elevation.
Overall, this is a truly great book. There are no negatives that I can think of. Katcher has placed his characters is less than average circumstances and manages to resolve their issues very successfully. He captured the varying emotions of Melody and Leon perfectly, and I can’t wait to get started on his second novel, Almost Perfect, which promises to be yet another interesting ride through a rather conventional teenage relationship.

Lit Snit Verdict: B

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