Wild Cards #1
Contemporary Young Adult
Walker Books for Young Readers
THE STORY (from Goodreads)
After getting kicked out of boarding school, bad boy Derek Fitzpatrick has no choice but to live with his ditzy stepmother while his military dad is deployed. Things quickly go from bad to worse when he finds out she plans to move them back to her childhood home in Illinois. Derek’s counting the days before he can be on his own, and the last thing he needs is to get involved with someone else’s family drama.
Ashtyn Parker knows one thing for certain--people you care about leave without a backward glance. A football scholarship would finally give her the chance to leave. So she pours everything into winning a state championship, until her boyfriend and star quarterback betrays them all by joining their rival team. Ashtyn needs a new game plan, but it requires trusting Derek—someone she barely knows, someone born to break the rules. Is she willing to put her heart on the line to try and win it all?
Wild Cards is somewhat of a tricky read; one that's fast, entertaining and provides a steamy moment or two, but if we attempt to slow our reading down and examine the characters more closely, we find a few niggling flaws that keep this romance from making its way onto our list of favorites. Ms. Elkeles is indisputably a wonderful storyteller capable of writing deeply moving characters and profoundly affecting books, and while Wild Cards teases us with a bit of drama and more than a little tension between Derek and Ashtyn, it doesn't hit as hard as some of her previous stories, leaving us more on the outside looking in with these two than we wish to be.
Ashtyn is a bit of a frustrating young woman in the beginning, her continued dislike of Derek after their initial unfortunate meeting coming off as somewhat irrational–her need to poke and prod him seeming more juvenile than anything else–leaving us to wonder how these two are ever going to pair up. In all fairness to Ashtyn, Derek deliberately pushes her buttons to incite a reaction, but for some reason his button-pushing feels more playful than hers does, making us far more hesitant to try and reach out and connect to her than Derek (to whom we pretty much hand our hearts over instantaneously). Once we hit the halfway mark though and Ashtyn finally admits her feelings for Derek to herself rather than trying uselessly to deny them, their relationship begins to feel more genuine, an emotional connection forming and drawing us in as we will one of the two of them to open their mouths and try their hand at honesty rather than game-playing.
Derek, as mentioned previously, enjoys getting a rise out of Ashtyn and provokes her at every opportunity, but it's still clear to us from the very beginning that Ashtyn is someone he cares for even if he would never admit it aloud, always watching out for her and working behind the scenes to right any wrongs done unto her. He's lovable without always being likable however, and there are certainly a few times when our fingers reach up into our hair and itch with the need to pull, his miscommunications with Ashtyn and the both intentional and unintentional emotional cuts he delivers at times walking the very fine line between delicious tension and irritating angst, but overall he's a young man we're absolutely rooting for to win the girl.
The romance between these two has a myriad of highs and lows to make Wild Cards a bumpy ride, and the family dynamic between Ashtyn and Derek's relatives only adds stones to an already rocky road. Derek's grandmother is mentioned on several occasions as being someone he has no desire to spend time with and who hasn't shown any interest in him since his mother died, but when she finally enters the picture a little over halfway through, she turns out to be an absolute riot. She's a delightful addition to the story, making us wonder why she was made out to be such a nightmare in the beginning. The relationships between Ashtyn and both her sister and father also could have been expanded upon as there's infinite potential there for those of us who like to dive right into the middle of something messy and see what we can find, but things remain right on the surface with them throughout.
Despite the flaws though, Wild Cards is a fun read and the romance in the second half is far more satisfying than in the first, leaving us with a big dopey grin on our faces and a strong desire to continue the series in order to discover which other player on Ashtyn's team we're going to have the chance to get to know better.
This book was given to me by the publisher at BEA free of charge for the purpose of a review.
I received no other compensation and the above is my honest opinion.