Cover of Playing With Matches, which looks like a Joker playing card with flames around him

About the Book

Title: Playing With Matches
Published: 2008
Swoonworthy Scale: 5

BFF Charm: Yay!
Talky Talk: Straight Up
Bonus Factors: Freaks and Geeks
Relationship Status: Kid Brother

The Deal:

Leon Sanders is an average-looking high schooler with a penchant for Sci-Fi and obscure sketch comedy. The result? He’s pretty much invisible at his suburban high school. He pines for cheerleader Amy Green, who embodies perfection in a way only seen by high school boys in love, and is really eaten up that even though they used to be friends, Amy doesn’t really talk to him, or flirt with him, or be mean to him, or even ignore him. Because Amy doesn’t actually even notice he’s there. Leon longs for a girlfriend who will get him, and like him, and oh, alright, think he’s awesome and funny and smart.

When the school moves locker assignments around, Leon finds his new locker mate is Melody Hennon (or Scarface, according to the kids in school), a girl who was left disfigured by fire when she was little. Trying to be nice, Leon makes a joke to Melody… and she laughs. The two begin developing a friendship, and find out they share a lot more than nearby lockers. Soon their friendship seems to be blossoming into something more. But will sudden attention from Amy be the answer to Leon’s long-time dreams, or just serve to mess up the good thing he already has?

BFF Charm: Yay!

Yay BFF Charm

Oh Leon, I really wish I could have been your BFF. I would have coerced and cajoled you until I got you to TALK TO ME about what you were feeling, and then you could have avoided so many problems! Or, if I was your BFF in high school, you might not have ever met Melody, because we would have been dating, trading Star Wars books back and forth and quoting Monty Python to our hearts’ content. (But maybe it’s good that we didn’t, because although I’m def. still an enormous geek, I have broadened my horizons so I can carry on conversations with, you know, normal people.)

And Melody! I wish I had known Melody as a YA. She is sweet and funny and smart and cool, and so beautifully strong, she is a role model for all teenaged girls. Love you, Mel!

Swoonworthy Scale: 5

Obvs. swoon from a boy’s perspective is not really swoon (although I’m pretty sure I saw my husband kinda swooning over the Salvatore brothers during last week’s Vampire Diaries… this being after I received a text from him earlier that day about the upcoming episode that read: “Dude! I am so gay for them.”) but Brian Katcher has a way of writing romantic feelings from teenaged boys that’s perfectly balanced betwixt “Oh, she has such a pretty smile… boobies!” and real feelings of deepening connections. There are plenty tingly moments, and they ring true of real high schoolers actually dating.

Talky Talk: Straight Up

Y’all, I wish I had read this book when I was a YA. Seriously, I feel like it gave me so much insight into why boys act the way they act, and why they seem to sabotage themselves at every turn. Some of my early relationships might have lasted a little longer if I had. (So Danny, Scott, I hope you’re not reading this, but maybe I should have given you both a second chance.)

Mr. Katcher writes his protagonists in a way that is funny, smart, touching, frustrating and sad at the same time. Most importantly, however, they are 100% BELIEVABLE. Never for a moment does it feel too smart or too funny or too anything but perfectly true, to this reader, as the voice of a teenaged boy. As an adult reader, I do sometimes enjoy an author whose voice is obviously older and wiser, but it is a much harder feat for an author to capture the tone of teens without resorting to gimmicks or too many pop culture references. This author has done that in both of his books.

Bonus Factor: Freaks and Geeks

Three nerdy looking boys in the school hallway from Freaks and Geeks

If you’re reading this, I’m sure it’s obvious I’m a geek, and I LOVED the references to the Twilight Zone eps and Monty Python and Sci-Fi! Kids in the Hall, holla!

Relationship Status: Kid Brother

This book and I… how do I even explain our relationship? I get along with it better and worse than I do with any other book. I might get frustrated with it and call it a jerk, but don’t you ever, because blood is thicker than water, and I’ve got its back, just as it has mine. We don’t always agree with each other’s choices, and sometimes we even scream and yell (Usually, things like “Get out of my room!….Mom!”) We don’t always have deep and meaningful talks, and we almost never agree on what to watch on tv, but we share a bond stronger than I have with any of my friends: DNA.

FTC Full Disclosure: I bought this book with my own money. I received neither cocktails nor money in exchange for this review.


Jenny grew up on a steady diet of Piers Anthony, Isaac Asimov and Star Wars novels. She has now expanded her tastes to include television, movies, and YA fiction.