Dangerous Play by Emma Kress: A Review

First off, thanks to net galley and the publisher for this early access audiobook! This book brought about a lot of mixed feelings for me, but overall- I really did enjoy being able to listen to this audiobook about friendship, field hockey, and feral rage.

Dangerous Play is about a field hockey team that takes a vigilantism approach to sexual assault and rape after our point of view is assaulted at a party. It’s a story that centers around the rage young girls feel, and comments on the destructiveness of that rage. I would describe it as a darker Moxie meets We Ride Upon Sticks. For a lot of the book, there’s some “kill men energy,” as Youtuber Carley Thorne would put it, but it takes a turn into discussions of the way holding onto anger corrupts, which is a good thing, but not exactly what I was expecting. Or, if I’m honest, what I wanted.

Let’s start with the good, shall we? I LOVED the narration on this audiobook. This narrator was spectacular in getting across the emotions of each scene, and I found myself gripped by her point of view and her acting. She was not monotonous in emotional climaxes- she was on edge, she was crying, she was feeling everything her character was feeling. I deeply enjoyed the audiobook itself, and have no problem recommending it to others on that note.

I loved the friendship dynamics in this book. I loved the way the field hockey team was written, and the way tensions rose in regards to race and class but friendship remained at the heart. I was really impressed by a scene in which the field hockey team is divided on whether or not to take a certain action, and the characters of color all step back from it. One of the characters basically says, “You shouldn’t do this, we can’t do this, because the system will not be kind to us,” and the only characters left taking things too far are noted to be the white characters. I really loved this exploration of privilege, because we so often see revenge stories from the perspective of a white woman who wants to fight the patriarchy, and forget about the nuance. I appreciated this moment solely because it was something I don’t see acknowledged a lot.

This book is hard to read at points. There is multiple scenes of graphic assault, whether physically or sexually, which I don’t think the synopsis or the cover prepares you for. It was honestly more jarring to have the cover give me the vibes of a wholesome young adult, only to turn around and provide plot points more akin to a young adult thriller. I think the cover is gorgeous, don’t get me wrong, but I also don’t think it fits the actual vibe of the book.

I think this book does a lot of things right. There are a lot of nuanced discussions of chronic pain, of being a child that takes on a lot of responsibility, and so on and so forth. I do feel that children who come from homes where they have to shoulder a lot of burdens for the sake of their parents may feel cheated by the way the storyline ends, which basically says, “It was all in her head and her parents were actually working really hard!” which isn’t exactly true in a lot of cases (and didn’t seem all that true in regards to the actual book).

If you’re looking for a book that will portray characters toppling the patriarchy for catharsis, I don’t think this is the book for you. If you’re looking for a nuanced look at how sexual assault survivors cope with trauma with messy characters that make messy, unlikable decisions, then this is the book for you. I personally really enjoyed Dangerous Play, but I’d make sure you are ready for this when you read it. The depictions of sexual assault in this book are fairly graphic, as well as the actual scenes of assault during the vigilante justice. It could also be triggering for children of neglectful parents, or children with chronically ill/suffering parents. Take care of yourself, and if that means skipping on this one, that’s okay.

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