Holy Romance Novel, Batman! This one is going to the top of my YA romance favorites list! This is the first of Kami Garcia’s novels that I have read, but I am now kicking myself for not reading her other ones already! You probably hear this a lot, but I literally couldn’t put this book down. I started it at 7:30 PM after the kids went to bed and finished the last page at 11:45 PM. It was THAT GOOD! It reminded me a little bit of the Abbi Glines Field Party series because of the small town where football is life. (That is also a really good series, by the way.) Garcia’s characters are beautifully crafted, but also very real – readers will be able to identify them to people in their own lives.
Here’s the rundown: Things are going well for high school senior Peyton Rios, a star soccer player who just received admittance and a starting soccer position at her college of choice, UNC. About a year prior to the story, Peyon’s father was killed in Iraq. She has had a tough road, but she is not alone. She has a best friend named Tess and a boyfriend of 7 months, Tess’s older brother, Reed. Reed is an MMA fighter who has been there for Peyton, but lately he seems a little distant and moody.
During a typical weekend house party, Peyton discovers a secret about Reed the she doesn’t want to believe, but knows she has to distance herself from his lies. When she confronts him, he gets violent and pushes her down the stairs, shattering her knee and her heart at the same time. After extensive surgery, Peyton worries she will lose her spot on the team at UNC, and wonders if she will ever be able to play soccer again? An even bigger problem is that Reed claims she fell and no one (other than her own mother) believes her, not even her best friend Tess. Soon she begins getting threats and Reed will no stop calling her, trying to see her as if nothing bad has happened.
Needing a change of scenery so that she can focus on rehab for the next few months, Peyton moves to a small town in Tennessee to live with her Uncle Hawk and the Twins, Christian and Cameron. Hawk was the only survivor of the military attack which killed her father, but having to dredge up painful memories even seems better than her current situation of constant fear and threats. She learns quickly that football is life in her Uncle’s family, her new school, and the whole town. Still reeling from the heartbreak of her last relationship, Peyton makes it clear to everyone that she is not interested in dating. Her muscle-head, tender-hearted, football star cousins, the Twins, watch her every move, determined to keep her safe, even from their own teammates. At first endearing and sweet, Peyton appreciates them, but really she just wants to be left alone and treated like everyone else. Until she (literally) runs into Owen Law, a mysterious, sexy guy who she instantly feels attracted to for some reason. Even so, she refuses to be swayed by his charm.
When she shows up for her first therapy session, however, she is forced into even closer contact with Owen. He is interning with the therapist and Peyton is his new patient. Side note: If I were her, I would be milking that knee injury for a very long time. The longer it hurts, the more therapy you need, right? But, I digress…
To complicate matters, it turns out that Owen is an MMA fighter, and he is GOOD. Though she knows of the risks of getting involved with another fighter, Peyton can’t help thinking that Owen is different. He’s nothing like Reed, and she is finding it hard to think about anything but Owen. But then she finds out Owen is hiding something. Something too big to ignore. And even though Peyton claims they are just friends, the something could shatter her heart all over again. Both Peyton and Owen must ask themselves how far they are willing to go for themselves and for each other. Is love worth really fighting for?
The story moves along rather quickly with just the right amount of romance, mystery, and humor. And fighting, lots of fighting. And not always in the ring. Hallways, parking lots, abandoned buildings, you name it. These small town Tennessee boys are quick to throw punches and protect their own. I loved this book and the characters. I can’t wait for her next book!