Review: The Obvious Game by Rita Arens

 Everyone trusted me back then. Good old, dependable Diana. Which is why most people didn’t notice at first.

 ***

“Your shirt is yellow.”

“Your eyes are blue.”


“You have to stop running away from your problems.”


“You’re too skinny.”

***

Diana Keller accidentally begins teaching The Obvious Game to new kid Jesse on his sixteenth birthday. As their relationship deepens, Diana avoids Jesse’s past with her own secrets — which she’ll protect at any cost.

Fifteen-year-old Diana’s life is unraveling. Cancer is eating away at her mom, and her family struggles to give her a normal childhood while dealing with the horrible sickness. Her friends are hitting the typical teen milestones of drinking, partying, and ditching her for boys, and she feels left behind. And she’s tired of always being the fat girl. Something has to give.

With so many elements spinning out of her control, Diana latches onto the one thing she can manipulate: her weight. Add in a new arrival to her small Iowa town—a guy who actually notices her—yet she can’t accept that he likes her for who she is. She whittles herself away, striving for perfection. She exercises far too much and stops eating, waiting for someone to SEE her before it’s too late.

**********

I don’t read a ton of YA. Yes, I’ve read today’s YA blockbusters. I vaguely remember reading Judy Blume’s Tiger Eyes back in about fifth grade, some Sweet Valley High and Girls of Canby Hall before I made the switch to hard core “adult” books. Back then, books for teens didn’t include premarital sex, eating disorders, or underage drinking (as this one does). At least none that I recall. I could have been looking in the wrong place. I hated everything about being a teenager—reading was my form of escapism, and the last thing I wanted to do was jump into the life of another angst-filled teen—instead I pretended I was an adult, freed from pubescent hell. So I don’t know if I would have been drawn to read Rita Aren’s debut YA novel The Obvious Game as a teen.

But I should have.

None of my close friends struggled with eating disorders…none that I noticed. I never caught any Heathers-esque barf fests in the bathroom after lunch or saw any of my friends wither into slight shadows of themselves. But considering estimates that millions of teens  battle E.D.s, I’m sure some of my friends and classmates silently suffered. They just hid it well. And I didn’t look. I didn’t see. This book will open some eyes, and hopefully let some teens hiding in plain sight be seen.

I found the thought process, the reasoning behind the spiral into Diana’s disorder fascinating and terrifying at the same time. While I kept rooting for Diana to stop, just slow down, just eat for Christ’s sake, I could see how somehow the destructive behavior made sense to her. And how it became too powerful for her to control, and engulfed her. This sensitive portrayal of her struggle was obviously written with great care, and by someone with firsthand knowledge.

The characters seemed like people I could know. I wanted to be friends with Diana, call her up so she could vent, hang out with her and give her a shoulder to lean on. I liked her father and his mix of awkwardness, love, and quiet strength. I would have loved to have found a Jesse, an attractive, slightly more worldly guy from a big town, who had experienced loss as well.  We’ve all had an Amanda, a friend who’s beautiful and popular and everything we wanted to be on the outside, yet was often ugly and cruel on the inside. And Diana, like many of us, chased after her version of pretty-girl perfection anyway.Thankfully she has a great guy friend—you know, the type with no attraction strings attached.

I enjoyed how the story was set in a somewhat simpler time—before sexting and cyberbullying—which allowed Rita to include chapter song titles from my own youth (The Obvious Game playlist). Pretty awesome.

The Obvious Game is raw, real, yet filled with humor and hope.

For more about Rita’s rough road to get this wonderful book published, check out Wednesday’s Guest Post by Rita Arens—A Writer’s Pub Journey by the Numbers.

Inkspell Publishing has generously offered to donate a portion of the proceeds of THE OBVIOUS GAME to the Eating Disorder Foundation. Double win.

The Obvious Game
by Rita Arens
Inkspell Publishing
Release Date: Feb 7th, 2013

$13.99 [Paperback] $4.99 [Kindle]

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