Peyton Stone had been in love before…so crazy in love, in fact, that he completely blew off his whole football team and a potential pro-football career to try and prove the depth of his feelings—only to have his efforts utterly rejected. The fiasco painted him as a man who couldn’t “go for the kill” and just maybe revealed that perhaps some small part of him wanted to miss that game. After all, opportunities missed couldn’t count as failures. Yet football is undeniably is in his blood; it is what he was built for.
Peyton winds up landing a job as a quarterback coach. Ultimately, he gets to coach for the Golden Eagles, an up and coming collegiate team. The downside is that the job comes with Head Coach Hackett, a man preoccupied with manliness and winning and a fierce believer in one begetting the other; working for Hackett has meant Peyton has had to stay firmly in the closet. The upsides are that twenty-six-year-old Peyton can virtually run circles around most of his players, still live in the game vicariously through them, and gets to work with Brady Winter.
At twenty-four, Brady is a bit older than the average underclassman because he chose to enlist, to fight for his country. He is popular but humble, dedicated and talented. Not only that, but the football skills he brings to the teams are par excellence. As coach and quarterback, Peyton and Brady work tirelessly to hone the team into a real contender for the top ten. Yet all is not exactly perfect—despite having worked together as coach and player just fine for two whole years, this year, Brady is hitting every “lust” button Peyton has. When he and Brady are analyzing game footage alone one night, things come to a head and Peyton is faced with either coming clean about his sexuality and hoping for the best, or playing it down.
Read this book! This is an amazing book! And this from someone who can’t even stand the commercials for the Super Bowl anymore, let alone the actual game.
First, the writing. The tone of the narration is incredibly true-to-life. I find myself sympathizing and empathizing with our characters. The story is told in third-person, semi-omniscient from Peyton’s perspective. He proves to be quirky, passionate, foolish, determined, scared, and so much more. Peyton is a highly nuanced character going through some delicate situations. I found it amazing to read his reactions to every situation. The more I read, the more invested in him I became. Sometimes, he didn’t always make me proud ,but that’s part of his charm. He’s not TOO perfect.
Just to give you a few samples of what I found intriguing about this characters…at one point, Brady relates to Peyton a story about his deployment. Brady explains two key episodes—one of soldiers taking/finding clandestine physical comfort in each other; the other is of a decision Brady made that is tantamount to killing an innocent. Peyton works hard to find explanations to reason away any wrong-doing on Brady’s part and Brady stoutly refuses to have his actions painted as heroic. I found it compellingly human, watching Peyton’s rationalizations and having to try to understand what Brady is talking about.
The plot itself, too, was a pleasure to watch unfold. Pomfret does a masterful job of balancing the personal lives of Peyton and Brady and the other varied and sundry characters against the drama of all that football. On the one hand, the progression through the training and football season gives you formulaic expectations (everything leads up to The Big Game). On the other hand, the relationship aspect of things keeps you WELL on your toes (so much so, in fact, I’m tempted to say it’s a HFN book…especially considering the afterword bits of the book mention a forthcoming sequel). PLUS, we’re treated to a marriage of the two threads by way of an outlandish gambit: Brady has a war injury that could be life-threatening…but Brady and Peyton are similar enough in physical aspect and nearly matched in talent and maybe Peyton could secretly play as Brady. I was on tenterhooks as soon as that spool started to unwind.
I found it utterly delightful Pomfret packs so many twists and turns into the story without any of it feeling overwhelming or, as I’ve often complained before, too busy. We see how the tension between Brady/Peyton plays out, watch Peyton deal with losing one dream while gaining another, catch glimpses into the honor bound life Brady lives as the soldier son of a military man, pick up some fabulous pumps at a garage sale, have a nasty run-in with a campus reporter chasing a juicy scoop, and more. In fact, the only part I found questionable was part of that switcheroo gambit I noted above. It’s not that the whole idea felt utterly out of place and over-the-top, but at a certain point, it did feel a smidgen contrived to me. I mean, the sheer logistics of it all. Yet Brady and Peyton and their accomplices are committed and the further along we go, the more (albeit a bit grudgingly on my part) I could see how the whole shebang just might come together.
As a side note, this book does contain a few sections from one of Pomfret’s other works, You Are the One (Brady’s war stories and a scene where Peyton reacts to an injury that lands Brady in the hospital). I enjoyed the visceral reading of that collection of short stories, but I am duly im-fucking-pressed with they way the were repurposed and fitted into this full novel. The stories are thought-provoking as standalone in Pomfret’s collection, but I found the deeper contextual setting of the novel super enticing.
With the human drama, high-stakes action, intimate portrayals of characters, and just being exciting to read overall, I would recommend this book to anyone.