Book Title: The Deal (Off Campus Series #01)
Author: Elle Kennedy
Number of pages: 358
Hannah Wells has finally found someone who turns her on. But while she might be confident in every other area of her life, she’s carting around a full set of baggage when it comes to sex and seduction. If she wants to get her crush’s attention, she’ll have to step out of her comfort zone and make him take notice… even if it means tutoring the annoying, childish, cocky captain of the hockey team in exchange for a pretend date.
…and it’s going to be oh so good.
All Garrett Graham has ever wanted is to play professional hockey after graduation, but his plummeting GPA is threatening everything he’s worked so hard for. If helping a sarcastic brunette make another guy jealous will help him secure his position on the team, he’s all for it. But when one unexpected kiss leads to the wildest sex of both their lives, it doesn’t take long for Garrett to realize that pretend isn’t going to cut it. Now he just has to convince Hannah that the man she wants looks a lot like him.
(re: Goodreads @ The Deal – Elle Kennedy)
Should this book be picked up? the tl;dr spoiler-less review:
– It’s shelved under sports (Hockey) despite its limited appeal to the actual game play…
– Alternating perspectives between Hannah and Garrett with omnipresent social issues lending itself to NA/erotic romance as a means for character growth
– While the deal is plausible in conception, the exposition lacks support in creating a realistic environment where an entire class can fail in order to spark the conflict. It downplays the institutional value of education but readers may find it easily overlooked through all of the witty bantering and swoony moments
– The psyche of male/female characters are well fleshed out and though there is instalust, the romance is of the slow-burn type
— Rating: 2.5/5
I solemnly dedicate this reading experience to Brandie @ Brandie is a Book Junkie and every individual whom I have promised to give the contemporary NA genre/age-group a shot. (I am so, so, so sorry for this exhaustive rant. I have no idea what I’m doing over here in NA LOL.)
This book is one of those reads that I decided to try on impulse as I was woeful from the current and on-going results of the NHL/Stanley Cup. But I digress.
I am also trying out this new graphical review style as well. I hope it helps…?
Disclaimer: Potential spoilers inherent to this review from here onward.
Thought 1: HOLY BANANAS THIS BOOK HAS SEEN SO MUCH PRAISE.
Thought 2: Parentheses will be used in this review to demonstrate my wandering train of thought.
Thought 3: I have no fucking clue how to review books in this age group/genre and what-merits-what. But I will try.
The Deal is a character-driven, slow-burn romantic comedy about college life when you carry baggage into a new phase of discovering yourself. The story follows Hannah Wells as she makes a deal with Garrett Graham; prodigal son of a famed hockey player, and star Adonis of his hockey team—to help him pass a Philosophy exam if he shines the spotlight on Hannah for a certain footballer to take notice of.
Briar University is home to a vibrant social life (because if you aren’t partying, then you’re obviously not “doing College right”), a ravenous sports following, and many bags of pucks that can’t seem to excel in a philosophy class. The narrative is told in two alternating perspectives, Hannah’s and Garrett’s, following their relationship from strictly business to something more and they find that they learn a lot about themselves along the way.
Included in the narrative, you have your favourite (hipster?) coffee hangout, a (sporty?) frat house, the scales of friendship versus instalust/love, a Love-V (which is the true definition of “love triangle”), the spending of tuition money to validate the necessity of tomfoolery, some boy (who’s rich and has a shitty upbringing), some girl (who’s broke as shit and an awkward duckling until…), sisters before misters (…until “the one” shows up), some misunderstanding, some deal, and a whole lot of feel-good young love, bantering, and privileged living – all of which is nodded to throughout this book.
Garrett Graham is an interesting fella. Not only is his last name food-related (so, bonus points for that I guess), he’s the brawny archetype who’s actually smarter than people give him credit for…except for the fact that he’s coincidentally underperforming in one class. While I could talk about how genuine and sweet he was…that’s not where my focus lies in his character. My problem with The Deal comes to life looking at his conception as a character versus the spark that spawns the conflict: where it’s generally accepted for him to perform well in all subjects except for one. It’s to my understanding that if you’re on the edge of failing, you’d put more eggs into that basket to try to, you know, succeed (not to mention that he’s involved in extracurricular activities and he has a desire to stick it to his father). The construct of the narrative doesn’t support the conflict for the deal to be anything more than just a way for Garrett to learn more about another girl he has yet to meet.
I wasn’t a Philosophy major in university; so I don’t want to overstep my boundaries despite two years of it in high school. However, given that there’s rarely a right-or-wrong in defending a stance/argument (using theory and “how philosophers would respond” as they story suggests), I find it difficult to believe that Garrett wouldn’t be able to perform at least at an average given his admittance that he’s skillful at pooping out black and white fact-based knowledge on a whim (re: history major) coupled with his superpowers to socialize like a butterfly. Philosophy would seem like a subject that basically caters to him.
Unless, of course, he’s overstepping his own capabilities; in fact, he could be lying. (Looks like an overcast day with a chance of readers being clouded by swoons and not seeing the unreliability through his amazing stick-handling skills—on ice.) There is a distinction in having the necessary toolbox of skills and simply not applying yourself. I think we can rule out apathetic behaviour given his status as a player to a school with zero-tolerance for academic shortcomings. What is it then? I mean, surely there’s no reason to believe Garrett would purposely fail to get the ball rolling with meeting more girls, let alone Hannah.
See, the writing passes the conflict off as “the class is tough” and “no one bullshits like Hannah”. That’s fine to a certain extent. I’ve been in classes where midterm grades hovered in the high-50s; where even the brightest minds have fallen short. I get it. But at the same time, there’s this tickling in my brain telling me that there’s a flaw in all the background noise, the education, that was overlooked and dealt with far too easy, even for fiction’s sake.
Maybe schools are different elsewhere but in the courses I’ve worked under, normalized grade distributions (re: curves) are a thing and if a percentage of your class is underperforming, it becomes a reflection on many aspects; teaching methods being one of them. Now, there’s an expectation gap present where what’s being taught isn’t reflecting student achievement. While this becomes an issue of student advocacy, it’s passed off by administration allowing an exam retake. Uhhh. The conception of a course is a multifaceted endeavour and using the get-out-of-jail-free-card of issuing another exam (which isn’t the same as an additional assignment) is a copout to the integrity of education.
Utilising the trope of “smart girl agrees to help a lesser student succeed” is one thing but building conflict within education itself that becomes easily resolved by simple tutoring is a problem that suspends belief in a contemporary setting given the character dilemmas we’re working with. Not only that, it relieves a symptom and not the underlying problem which goes against Briar University as an institution. Unless this is a commentary about the faults in higher education (which isn’t resolved with any effort), then no, I don’t really understand how/why the entire class is failing. It must become incredibly easy to dismiss the structural pitfalls in writing when a reader’s attention is focused on the player-meets-beautiful-girl trope. This book is wholeheartedly character driven but the misrepresentation in conflict creates a dissonance in elevating the realism of this deal from ever happening.
But let’s talk about Hannah; who is as vividly imagined as a girl burdened by a past can be. I can’t speak to the her psyche but she does feel well fleshed out even if there were moments of questionable behaviour straying from her personality to drastically change in such a short period of time. The underlying social issue is mentioned early and is handled with care—not passed off as something that fixes itself on a whim. It was a trial-and-error rediscovery of trust that I actually appreciated. I’ve read that erotic romance is a style of fiction that pushes growth and The Deal is a prime example of this notion; where the sex is adequately described and builds their character (even well-endowed bantering is thrown into the mix). Furthermore, Hannah works toward getting what she wants and isn’t terribly annoying on her path to her goals (although tolerances differ for whiny leads). Her “tutor” role isn’t actually more than her reminding Garrett of how awesome he could be since his knowledge is sound but the approach is misguided.
While The Deal is many things, what it is not is a novel that ought to be classified within the sports genre. Yes, hockey players are the subject in this book—and like most sports franchises—there are players who are buff and gruff and make for wonderful swoony fantasies. To me, if a book is to be labeled as such, the fundamental theme has to utilise the sport to grind out their willingness for growth. They have to face hardships (did they even lose?). They have to dive into the actual game play (the hockey was more about Garrett not wanting to live in his father’s shadow). The sport ought to be the central issue (the deal was the focus). For an avid viewer of hockey, this book fails in this regard. However, to the regular NA-reader, yes, you will probably enjoy it because romance is reasonably at the forefront. (I was basically duped into thinking this had more sports than it actually does. I was deceived, basically.)
I’m just going to say this now: is there a positive correlation between swooning and quantitative scores, where maximum swoonage = five-stars? The banter was fun to read into and the core character issues was something I think was handled well but the oversaturation of tropes that removed any response to look at the problems in exposition is disheartening. Though the one positive thing I will say is that there was no “I let out a breathe I didn’t know I was holding”. Hallelujah to that! If The Deal by Elle Kennedy fixed the hole in everyone failing and Garrett being of a different major (perhaps number crunching in Math—or is that “too nerdy” for a sports fanatic?), then it would strengthen the accessibility in conflict to be more than just fiction.