Review: Dangerous Play

I’ve been excited for this book for absolute ages. The promise of a morally nuanced exploration of revenge, a takedown of rape culture and a celebration of female solidarity & friendship was absolutely intoxicating.

This review originally appeared on The Nerd Daily.

Zoe Alamandar has one goal: win the State Field Hockey Championships and earn a scholarship that will get her the hell out of Central New York. She and her co-captain Ava Cervantes have assembled a fierce team of dedicated girls who will work hard and play by the rules.

But after Zoe is sexually assaulted at a party, she finds a new goal: make sure no girl feels unsafe again. Zoe and her teammates decide to stop playing by the rules and take justice into their own hands. Soon, their suburban town has a team of superheroes meting out punishments, but one night of vigilantism may cost Zoe her team, the championship, her scholarship, and her future.

Publication Date: 3rd August

TW: sexism, sexual assault, harassment, violence


My Thoughts:

Dangerous Play is a powerful and extremly evocative novel that tackles rape culture, harassment and sexism. This is the type of book you just want to press into everyone’s hands and get them to read immediately. 

Kress fills this book to the brim with emotional intensity and devastation. Female rage is on full display here, with a range of reactions across the team. There’s this sense of complete devastation for the reader with scenes where each member of the team discloses their own experiences with rape culture. I loved how Kress fully delves into these intense and complex emotions, ensuring that every reaction is treated as being valid. This leads to a really interesting discussion around justice vs vigilante actions, where if someone is really protecting people or just seeking their own vengeance. Kress opens an intriguing moral dialogue here, asking to what extent someone will mask their own pain with the pain of others. It also questions what happens when these actions may have gone too far, with an intersectional discussion about the justice system and who is more likely to be left with the blame. The book ultimately changes gear and leads to an exploration of activism in other forms. Primarily, the team utilises the power of their own voices and experiences. That bravery is excellent to see, though Kress doesn’t shy away from showing the vulnerability and fractured feelings around these actions. It is brave, but it also should not be necessary. The experiences shared in the book are all too familiar and the culture described permeates every aspect of the book. 

That being said, the primary focus of this book is not dismantling rape culture. This book is mainly about female solidarity and the team is a brilliant example of this. Zoe’s team is the most heart-warming found family, who are all there for each other no matter what. They’re all such funny, warm and extremely memorable characters that just jump off the page and into your heart. Zoe herself is an incredible protagonist. She is complex and definitely not perfect, but as captain, she is the heart and soul of the team. Though she may not always see it, she affects every single one of them in so many ways and it is her perseverance and drive that really helps them along. At the same time, she’s dealing with her own problems in terms of her family. Her lazor focus is both a help and a hindrance, affecting her ability to see how other people around her are feeling. The gradual shift in her character arc and her growth was so good to see. Every person in the team brings their own magic and talents, giving the book that kind of fuzzy glow for your heart. They’re all such believable, authentic teenage characters and they share those sorts of moments together, like late night film marathons at sleepovers.

 I also really enjoyed the detailed presentation of their training, which really showed off their commitment. The match scenes were so fun to read and you got pulled into the spirit of it all. Sports are not often explored in YA, so it was a refreshing change to see real heart and passion for the sport from the characters. It has this kind of infectious energy that means you root just as hard as the characters for their victory. Their training montages often came with hilariously inspiring speeches from their coach, but even these had soul behind them and a clear sense of love for her team. The parkour scenes were also really fun to read and so easy to imagine. They just allowed the team to be completely free and Zoe’s attitude to them really reflects her character growth and arc over the course of the book. 

Dangerous Play is a fierce book that will leave you ready to stand up and use your voice, while also casting a fuzzy glow in your heart with its exploration of female friendship and solidarity. While this is a tough read at times, it is a necessary one.

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