About the Book

Title: Game On (The Academy #1)
Published: 2013
Series: The Academy
Swoonworthy Scale: 3

Cover Story: I’ve Seen Worse
BFF Charm: Maybe Nay
Talky Talk: Mindless Beach Read
Bonus Factor: Tennis, Boarding School
Anti-Bonus Factor: Multi-Sport Boarding School, The Real World
Relationship Status: Rebound

Cover Story: I’ve Seen Worse

Yeah, this cover screams chick lit. Luckily, I read it as an ebook, so I really didn’t care. But this guy needs to be told that a tennis net is not a very effective prophylactic.

The Deal:

After four years of trying to get in, Maya has finally made it into The Academy, a prestigious training facility for elite athletes. Sure, she doesn’t have the money, but she earned her scholarship through her feats on the tennis court. But the lives of her rich and glamourous classmates may be too tempting for Maya to keep her focus on the courts… and her spot at The Academy.

BFF Charm: Maybe Nay

BFF Charm that says "denied"

I hesitated on flat-out denying Maya a BFF charm because of her newfound friendships at The Academy. She befriends swimmer Renee, despite the latter’s unfortunate reputation. And she’s really understanding of golf phenom Cleo’s struggles with her cultural and personal identities.

BUT. For as good of a friend Maya can be, she’s also pretty flaky. Once she becomes tight with tennis superstar classmate Nicole, she pretty much ditches Cleo and Renee, aka MY MAYA BUFFERS.

I don’t exactly hate Maya, and I don’t entirely fault her for being swept up by the glitz and glamour, either. But by no means would I want to hang out with her. I guess some of her awkwardness can be attributed to having spent all her time on the tennis courts, but her lack of brain/mouth filter results in quips that are more cringeworthy than humorous. But she’s probably supposed to come off as charmingly awkward, which just makes me cringe MORE.

And I know this story’s supposed to be about The Academy, or so the fanciful font tells me, but Maya’s backstory is so very flimsy. She was teased when she was younger, and she’s really close to her mother (not close enough to ever contact her over the course of the book, but whatevs). Oh, and her family’s poor. Which Maya will never let you forget, because she brings it up ALL THE FREAKING TIME. I know it’s easy for me to judge from my cozy middle-class berth — and obvs, not having money would suck — but girl is OBSESSED about the disparity between her and her classmates. Like insecure to the point of “Would he date me since I’m poor?” MAYA, IT’S 2013. He’s not judging you by the size of your parents’ dowry!*

*Though interestingly enough, the reverse concerns are never mentioned, i.e. Maya being a golddigger. Which would have been v. v. valid to wonder about the girl who always brings up money.

Swoonworthy Scale: 3

Let me just say that I found neither love interest appealing AT ALL. Travis is the (boring and poorly developed) golden boy on campus and the quarterback heir to his ex-NFLer headmaster father. And fellow footballer Jake is supposed to be (ugh) the bad boy. HEY JAKE — just because you’re a jerk who likes to wear dog tags that you haven’t earned doesn’t make you a badass. You’re a hurt kid who acts out a lot — not so much bad boy, but more poor little rich boy. Not to advocate criminality here, but Jake’s bad quotient is positively tame compared to his YA peers; his greatest act of rebellion is to break stuff. It didn’t work as a Limp Bizkit song, and IT DOESN’T WORK HERE. 

AND! Given Jake’s lack of charm, the supposed enemistry between him and Maya falls flat for me. For one, she sucks at banter and gets overly rattled, so it’s basically just the verbal equivalent of Jake pulling on her pigtails. But he’s not good at it, either! During their first interaction, he draws attention to their alleged sexual tension (OH GOD how I wish that existed) but he just comes off as way too cocky and gross.

HOWEVER, y’all can plainly see that this book did, in fact, register some swoon with me. Despite its many, many aforementioned shortcomings, it elicited a few irrepressible big idiot grins from me. I KNOW! Apparently I’m really easy to cater to! The book’s swoon strength lies with the sweeter, cutesy moments — DEF. not its attempts at flirtatious witticisms.

Talky Talk: Mindless Beach Read

The writing is… not that great. The dialogue can get pretty clunky and inauthentic, and the characters are prone to monologuing. The book hits up the cliché well way too often, and it also has a tendency of hammering in its points and spelling things out for the reader. But guess what, book? You and Avril Lavigne are both NOT THAT COMPLICATED. Give your readers a little bit of credit. Even if we make questionable choices like reading you in the first place.

All that being said, I did find it interesting enough to finish it.* Which may not be saying much, given my high tolerance for crappy entertainment.

*Even though, had it not have been on my ereader, I would have THROWN THE BOOK AGAINST A WALL for how blatantly it’s begging for a sequel. Not surprising but c’mon, book — do you think you’ve really earned one?

Bonus Factor: Tennis

Guess what, y’all? Former Grand Slam champ Monica Seles (co-)wrote a book! About tennis! Aka the sole reason I went against better judgement (and BETTER BOOKS) to read this.

Bonus Factor: Boarding School

Regal old boarding school building with turrets and ivy on the stone walls

While scholarship students like Maya and Cleo live in dorm rooms, the rich ones share private villas. But again — it’s pretty low-level debauchery for a bunch of super-fit teenagers with minimal supervision. You can’t fool me, book; I know what goes on at the Olympic Village.

Anti-Bonus Factor: Multi-Sport Boarding School

Y’all, I love sports. I can’t play them for shizz because I’m short with zero hand-eye coordination, but I love sports nonetheless. So it’s kind of strange how I thought the sports were one of the weaker aspects of this book.

I get why the authors shyed away from focusing too much on sports, since that could veer too easily into play-by-play commentary. (Plus: That’s valuable real estate for TEH DRAMZ.) But this is a sports academy. Show me more sports!

At the same time, there were too many sports. Tennis and swimming make sense in a boarding school setting, but not all solo sports are immune to COMMON SENSE. There are two golf courses, but still — it’s the same damn courses ALL THE TIME.

And team sports like football are just bad idea jeans. At most, it’s feasible for The Academy to have maybe two teams? No matter how good they may be, how could the players improve when they’re always facing each other?! Or do they play other private schools? Wouldn’t the players be better off playing for a team in e.g. Dillon, TX?

Oh! And! The facilities are treated like a BFD, but what about the instructors? There’s supposed to be world-class training, but the only coach that’s introduced (other than — ugh — Nails the headmaster) is just a nameless drill sergeant stereotype. Who Maya rarely interacts with anyway! So aside from the fancy courts, there’s really no reason why she needs to be at The Academy.

ANYWAY. The premise just feels too ambitious; it def. could have been tightened up. Basically, I just wanted a slightly fictionalized tell-all of the Bollettieri Academy.

Anti-Bonus Factor: The Real World

I realize that making any pop culture references is tricky, and I usually prefer real references to cheesy made-up ones. But this book managed to piss me off by doing BOTH AT THE SAME TIME.

Nicole is supposed to be one of the best tennis players in the world, and a power-hitting short one at that. I’d have an easier time suspending disbelief if there weren’t mentions of the Gyllenhaals and Dwyane Wade — which means Serena Williams exists, and BISH PLZ like this kid would be able to consistently hang with arguably the most dominant tennis player of all time.

Relationship Status: Rebound

Real talk: I only hooked up with this book because I’m in between ones that I’m actually interested in. And Book? You give good plot, but your execution is a bit sloppy. To your credit, you were fun and you took my mind off of my last book (albeit sometimes due to frustration). But don’t expect us to start dating or anything.

FTC Full Disclosure: I received my free review copy from Bloomsbury. I received neither money nor froyo for writing this review (dammit!). Game On will be available May 7.

Mandy (she/her) lives in Edmonton, AB. When she’s not raiding the library for YA books, she enjoys eating ice cream (esp. in cold weather), learning fancy pole dance tricks, and stanning BTS. Mandy has been writing for FYA since 2012, and she oversaw all things FYA Book Club from 2013 to 2023.