Game Changer by Rachel Reid.
Content Warnings for review: Discussion of sex scenes, racism, queer antagonism.
This contemporary m/m romance has a meet cute between a closeted hockey player and the cute guy who made the smoothies that might have helped him break a losing streak, a one night stand to lovers arc, and heavily centers out for you as the core trope.
This was my first Reid book and I found it pretty compelling. It feels like the most swoony of the hockey romances I’ve read so far (except for Kiss and Cry, which is quite different in a number of ways). In Game Changer, it felt like the story valued the romantic aspect of the relationship and centered it alongside the sexual aspect. I think this partly felt different in comparison, because the hockey player MC had lots of emotions, and was aware of them and even talked about them, which has not happened much in my hockey romance reading thus far. I appreciated his emotional vulnerability and fumbling around trying to show it, and wish that had gotten more room in the story. Yes, I’m basically saying this felt more romantic than other hockey romances and I wanted there to be even more room for romance in the story.
I struggled some with how sex was happening in the story; it felt like it was quite full of sex scenes that didn’t move things emotionally or plotwise, were mostly there for heat, and perhaps to fulfill genre expectations for m/m romance. I prefer the sex in romances to have more emotional vulnerability and intimacy. The MCs felt less connected when they were having sex than at other times. I skimmed some of the sex scenes because of this lack of connection. There were also some moments when I cringed at how the book talked about sex, because they felt ableist. For example, when Scott was injured he apologized for not being up for sex and promised to make it up to Kip later. There was also an unfortunate moment where stoicism and strength (not showing pain and being a “tough guy”) were implied to be important qualities in a sexual bottom; that made me cringe on a number of levels.
I was glad the cast had several secondary characters of color, including a former player turned coach and a current player. That’s fairly unusual for a hockey romance, from what I’ve read, and as this is set in NYC, I really appreciated that it wasn’t an all-white cast. That said, from my white reader’s perspective, the representation was incidental and felt fairly thinly drawn, and there were a couple moments where characters of color compare racism within hockey to queer antagonism within hockey, which felt forced and made me cringe. Comparing oppressions is generally a bad idea, and it felt like perhaps these characters were marked as POC primarily so that they could make these comparisons. Which I found troubling.
It is very much an out for you story, which I generally struggle with and often find irritating. I was less irritated with this one, but I think it didn’t quite work as the sole central conflict. The relationship went to some bad places partly because Scott was deeply closeted but also because Kip felt like he couldn’t/shouldn’t ask for what he needed in it. It felt like a lot of Kips issues were wrapped into the symbolism of coming out, and I think Kips arc was underdeveloped because it leaned on that conflict too much. It felt like coming out was the symbolic obstacle, but actually the core problem was about Kip not getting to have emotional needs in the relationship, or not advocating for them, or not thinking he was worthy enough to get to ask for things. That part got lost in the shuffle. It got a bit didactic around coming out as the thing that will end your loneliness and isolation, but that felt like it had a bit more meat to it in this story than in some others using this trope.
There is a major class difference and some class conflict in the story, and the conflict aspect felt particularly due to cluelessness on Scott’s part, which didn’t quite ring true like some of his other cluelessness. I don’t think the story needed this conflict, it felt more like a distraction when the time could be spent on Kip’s arc instead.
Overall, this hit the spot as a fairly light and engaging read on a hard day. I am interested to read the next book in the series, Heated Rivalry (out 3/25), and see where she takes it.
- Gay MCs
- Several secondary characters of color
Content Warnings (in white, highlight to read)
Physical fighting in the context of a hockey game. Injuries from playing hockey. Casual queer hatred including the use of slurs like “faggot”. Casual fat antagonism and ableism. Substantial discussion of institutional and cultural queer antagonism in hockey. Several times characters of color compared institutional and cultural queer antagonism in hockey to institutional and cultural racism in hockey. Alcohol use, including drunkenness. Multiple references to parental death in the past. Sex on the page.
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