Tuesday, February 13, 2018

Winner Take All by Laurie Devore

Winner Take All by Laurie Devore
Release Date - January 30,  2018
Publisher Website - Raincoast Books
Publisher Social Media - Twitter
Pages -  336 pages
My Rating - 4.5/5
**received for an honest review from publisher**

Here is the Goodreads synopsis
For Nell Becker, life is a competition she needs to win.
For Jackson Hart, everyone is a pawn in his own game.
They both have everything to lose.

Nell wants to succeed at everything—school, sports, life. And victory is sweeter when it means beating Jackson Hart, the rich, privileged, undisputed king of Cedar Woods Prep Academy. Yet no matter how hard she tries, Jackson is somehow one step ahead. They’re a match made in hell, but opposites do attract.

Drawn to each other by their rivalry, Nell and Jackson fall into a whirlwind romance that consumes everything in their lives. But when a devastating secret exposes their relationship as just another game, how far will Nell go to win?

Visceral and whip-smart, Laurie Devore’s Winner Take All paints an unflinching portrait of obsessive love, toxic competition, and the drive for perfection.
After devouring How To Break A Boy I knew that I was instantly going to read whatever Laurie Devore wrote next. It offered an unsettling look at the type of friendships that consume us, and turn us into the worst versions of ourselves. I was thrilled when her next book was announced and it sounded just as intense and discussion worthy.

It is a not a secret that these books are going to invoke a wide range of varying perspectives when it comes to discussing how much people enjoyed them. Books like Winner Take All often get called polarizing. The characters within both of the books by this author are so unflinchingly and unapologetically flawed that it makes you work for it in a lot of ways. It makes you have to invest in characters that you may even find unlikeable, and that is a hard sell for some readers. These characters fascinate me. Nell Becker fascinates me because I cannot relate to her. This novel does its job of making me understand her, and I think that makes all the difference while reading a book like this.

Nell is a character that is going to garner some strong reactions from readers, and I hope readers examine why they are having these reactions. I hope it ignites a conversation about female characters and the way we are so unforgiving of them. I hope it continues the conversation about the imbalance that exists for male and female characters. Both Nell and Jackson do some incredibly awful things to each other. They are both, at various times, horrible people. I predict, however, that Jackson will be judged less harshly than Nell will be. Male characters are often easily forgiven for things that female characters are crucified for, and that is pretty much the over arching theme of this book. It is a message that, I feel, Laurie Devore captures perfectly.

Girls are often told contradictory messages. Smile, but not too much. Be confident, but not too much. A woman who strives to be the best, who is competitive, who dares to ask for what she deserves is looked at in a very specific, very unflattering, way. Nell is a character who embodies this. The pressure that Nell feels is overwhelming at times, and yet she is often viewed as simply 'too much' by those around her. This is sharply contrasted with the treatment of Jackson, the golden boy of the high school. We should be telling girls that it is okay to want, to make mistakes, and to take up space. They should demand what they worth, and strive for everything they want to achieve. I hope we eventually stop punishing them for it when they do take the chance.

Jackson is everything the jacket copy promises. He's easy to love. He's charming, even when he is infuriating. He is exactly the type of male character we all too easily forgive because of his panty dropping smile and effortless charisma, even if he is all too often a jerk. He is written to be the polar opposite of Nell, and that contrast is really what drives home what this book is trying to say. I feel that just as much work went into creating both of these characters because they each so dependent on the other in order for the story to work.

The love story in this one, much like the characters, is not pretty. It's not some romantic tale complete with a happily ever after. It is unhealthy most of the time. Nell and Jackson are not good for each other in the current state that they are each in. What makes this relationship work are the vulnerable moments that exist between them. The moments that make you see what this relationship could possibly be. Those moments are interwoven into the narrative at the exact right moments. The pacing of the entire novel worked for me as a whole. The increasing tension feels like the lead up to an explosion which is pretty much a metaphor for Nell and Jackon's entire relationship. That it is felt in the pacing of the novel only showcases the talent Laurie Devore has.

Winner Take All does for toxic relationships what How To Break A Boy did for toxic friendships. Laurie Devore is quickly becoming a writer who is known for her flawed, messy characters and thought provoking novels. I am eager to see what she does next and follow her characters down whatever dark paths she may want to take them.

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