Title: Wild Cards [Amazon]
Author: Simone Elkeles [website]
Publisher: Walker Books for Younger Readers
Source/Type: Netgalley/Digital ARC
Reviewed by: Andi & Michelle
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?
Andi: By far my least favorite Elkeles book to date. I really liked Derek in the beginning and then I found him to be super annoying when he was around Ashtyn. She was so wishy washy and back and forth. I didn’t find the emotional connection at all and I found myself rolling my eyes a couple of times which bums me out. I had really high hopes for it too. I know you felt differently than I did though, right?
Michelle: That’s kind of a bummer! I did feel differently but, like you I didn’t feel like it was my favorite of hers. I wonder if we felt it was lack luster because we’ve read another book that focused on a girl football player that we really liked?
So, what did I like? You know I always like a bad boy so Derek worked for me. He could have been a little bit more “bad” though. It felt like he lacked some of the grit that Elkeles’ male leads typically have. He obviously didn’t need to be a criminal but making him more of a prankster felt a bit fake. I also liked Ashtyn, probably more so as an individual character than as part of a couple with Derek. I liked that she was strong (but still vulnerable) and stood her ground as she navigated being the only girl on the football team.
What did you think of the family focused storylines?
A: I found it to be a little muddled and not really resolved at all. I HATED the grandmother story. She was too over the top for me even for a fiction book and for Derek to just have a change of heart like he did just didn’t work. It didn’t make sense. And Ashtyn’s father was another piece of work. He was a horrible parent, but I didn’t understand the point of him. All he did was complain and then he was all better. I just didn’t believe it would be that easy. His wife up and leaves him with their two daughters, then one daughter leaves and he gets a massage and everything is A-Okay. It took away from the whole point of the story if you ask me.
And I’m not gonna lie, I did think of that other book you mentioned the whole time I read it and that may have swayed me for sure. 🙂
What did you think about Derek and the football reveal? I found it contrived.
M: LOL, I figured you were thinking of that book. It was hard not to compare frankly it was so similar at least with the girl football player scenario.
The grandmother story was a bit over the top but I got it. I think it would have been better if the character had been a bit more muted. Like you, I think it would have made more sense and been more realistic if she was infused into Derek’s life a little more smoothly. The initial meeting being abrupt made sense, even the blackmail, but ultimately the moving to the same town as Ashtyn and then infusing into her family was definitely out of place. Even if she did have a change of heart she was awfully accepting of all the “lower-class” lifestyle super quickly. I can’t imagine that anyone would uproot their life like that after knowing their long lost family member (and his friends?) for as little time as she did.
As for the father, he was just kind of there for me. Honestly, I think there was plenty of conflict in the story without his role. It was just kind of there for me and I pretty much glazed right over it all things considered.
The football reveal wasn’t really a reveal for me. I saw that coming a mile away so when it happened the way it did it was no surprise. I actually did find the circumstances surrounding his having stopped playing to be very touching and realistic. I think exploring a bit more of that connection and a bit more of a struggle as he built himself up to play again would have been a really good story. Instead of “hey, I’ll jump back on the field because this girl I like needs me to”. That felt a bit off.
What did you think of the story involving Ashtyn’s former boyfriend?
A: Not a fan at all of the boyfriend arc. It was just a plot point for me because I don’t think Ashtyn even liked him. He was written right off the bat to be unlikeable and he was. As a reader there was no conflict for me to decide if I knew where he was coming from. He sucked and it was as simple as that.
But I also didn’t really find Ashtyn all that likeable. I think I liked her football supporting cast more than I did her. Here she was saying that she was the football star that worked for her star status and how she didn’t care what others thought and then she was ready to give up captain to make a jerk happy. It just didn’t sit right with me and made Ashtyn not look like the strong girl she was supposed to be. I mean I know we all do stupid stuff for guys sometimes, but it just didn’t fit the character. It actually really bothered me. May have been the first time of many I rolled my eyes.
Did you like her?
M: To start, I don’t think she was the central focus of the story and I think that may have been part of the problem. Elkeles has always made the male the center so this more evenly told story was a departure. Maybe that’s one of the reasons why Ashtyn felt off? I didn’t dislike her but I didn’t really connect too much to her either which was a problem given the fact that she was the central storyline. I have a feeling the story would have been tighter and more open for connection if it was more centralized on Derek. She definitely could have used more relatability and compassion. Some of this disconnect could also have come from the fact that she didn’t have any girlfriends. Maybe a girlfriend would have softened her up a bit and given her some more depth?
A: You know, it never even crossed my mind that she had no girlfriends. I didn’t even think about that, but you’re right, that totally could have softened her. She wasn’t close to her sister, her mother left, and I didn’t see enough of the friendship between her and the boys on the football team to even notice. She probably would have been more likable to me if she did have that one friend, even if it was a guy, that she went to and joked with. She was really just blah for me and that took away from the relationship between she and Derek. Something was just off for me between them, you know? I think I just expected more after the fun of her other books.
M: I agree, I liked it more than you but ultimately it lacked some of the oomph her other books have. It just felt a bit more cliched and like I’d seen it before somewhere else. The advantage of the Perfect Chemistry books was that there was definitely a lack of that gritty hard story (at least that I’d seen at the time) in contemporary romance books.
A: And that pretty much sums up what I thought was missing.
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