By: Jenny B. Jones
Published By: Sweet Pea Productions
Publication Date: March 22, 2016
Page Count: 314
Source: Purchased by Reviewer
Audience: Young Adult - Contemporary
Harper O'Malley hasn't always had the easiest life. Growing up her biological mother was neglectful and abusive. Harper grew to believe that she wasn't worthy of attention or love, but everything changed when she went into the foster system and landed with the O'Malley family. The O'Malleys are everything Harper ever dreamed about - a loving, supportive mother and father and two typical brothers who drive her nuts but will always have her back. A side benefit to her father's job as the head coach of a successful college football program in Kentucky is that she also has several very large talented football players who see themselves as surrogate brothers. In spite of her years as an O'Malley, Harper can't quite let go of her old wounds. Could they be the undoing of her current happiness?
The story begins with Harper's safe, perfect world being thrown into a tailspin when a scandal involving her dad breaks. It shakes the family to the core and puts his job on the line. Harper isn't sure if her family can survive the fallout and she's less than thrilled at the prospect of moving when she finally has friends and a crush who just might return her affections.
Harper isn't the only one affected by Coach O'Malley's choices. Ridley Estes, high school football star and the stuff girls' dreams are made of, had a scholarship to the university where Coach O'Malley works. He was a recruit selected by the Coach himself, but not everyone involved in the program is thrilled with the selection. Ridley has a police record, less than stellar grades, and seems to prefer partying to focusing on school and football. As the scandal threatens Ridley's future, he reaches out to Harper. The pair strike up a bargain: Harper will tutor Ridley and do everything in her power to help him keep his scholarship while Ridley will teach Harper how to be a good girlfriend as her dating experience is sorely lacking.
As Harper and Ridley spend more and more time together, they begin to realize they have more in common than they could have imagined. I enjoyed watching this pair see each other with new eyes. It was also nice to see Harper begin to take risks and to see the value of herself. The relationship with Harper and Ridley is fairly predictable, but I found that didn't impact my enjoyment of the novel.
In addition to the relationships, I enjoyed Harper's illegal extracurricular activities. She is a hardcore animal activist who has taken her obsession with animals to the criminal level by liberating abused dogs and finding them new homes. Harper is compelled to help animals in need, regardless of the consequences. I admired her conviction, but I am in no way advocating her methods. Her work at the animal shelter is her escape and her means of control when her life and family are spinning beyond her grasp. Harper has to learn that just because those we love screw up, it does lessen their love for us.
I loved the football connection in this one; It was the main reason I purchased this novel. As a football coach's daughter, I related to the surrogate brothers and the team dinners. I also had certain players that will always hold a special place in my heart. This sort of family is special. Coaches have busy schedules that often keep them away from home. I appreciated that by the end of the novel, Coach O'Malley remembered the true value of his family and the time they spent together. Some of my fondest childhood memories involve football which made this read nostalgic. One would not have to love or understand football, however, to enjoy this read.
Lastly, I wanted to note that this isn't a cookie cutter YA romance. Yes, romantic relationships play a role, but there is a lot more depth lurking in these pages. Harper deals with some serious issues and has to work through emotional baggage that is holding her back. Ridley has his own set of issues. I was surprised about the amount of darkness in the lives of Harper and Ridley. It was nice to see them as more than flat, static characters.
At its core, this is a story about friendship. I would go any length to help a friend in need if it was within my power to do so. It was nice to see that quality reflected in Harper and Ridley - especially in a time when people are often self centered. The world would be a much better place if we all had hearts as big as Harper O'Malley.
One Last Gripe: It was difficult for me to like Harper in the beginning. I felt she was whiny and judgmental. Stick with her, I promise she evolves.
Favorite Thing About This Book: I love the scenes with the guys from the college team and Harper.
First Sentence: Sometimes I stare out my bedroom window, find the North Star, and wonder if it's shining down elsewhere - on the life I was supposed to live.
Favorite Character: Ridley
Least Favorite Character: Coach O'Malley - but he does redeem himself by the end
The day Andrew Levin arrives at Washington High, Harper O’Malley knows he’ll make the perfect starter boyfriend. The school’s newest band geek is totally in Harper’s league, yet completely out of this late-bloomer’s reach. Between fitting in with a new family, scoring the first chair in band, and rescuing dogs for the local animal shelter, Harper’s never had the opportunity to hone her dating skills. But even though Harper’s love life is far from perfect, she’s got the perfect plan.
Harper knows she’s insane to agree to tutor Ridley Estes, a notorious heartbreaker and the star of her high school’s football team—but in exchange, he’s offered to school her in the game of love. Just when she sees promise with her crush, a football scandal rocks her family, her town, and Ridley’s entire future. Harper suddenly has everything to lose—her family, friends, and even her heart. When the dust of the scandal settles, nothing will be the same. Including the girl who asked the most popular jock to teach her about love.