In the small town of Lewis Creek, baseball is everything.
Especially for all-star pitcher Austin Braxton, who has a one-way ticket out of town with his scholarship to a top university. All that stands between him and a new start is one final season. But when Austin starts flunking Chemistry, his picture-perfect future is in jeopardy. A failing grade means zero playing time, and zero playing time means no scholarship.
Enter Marisa Marlowe, the new girl in town who gets a job at his momma’s flower shop. Not only is Marisa some home-schooled super-genius, she’s also a baseball fanatic and more than willing to help Austin study. As the two grow closer, there’s something about Marisa that makes Austin want more than just baseball and out of Lewis Creek—he wants a future with her. But Marisa has a past that still haunts her, one that she ran all the way to South Carolina to escape.
As Austin starts to peel back the layers of Marisa’s pain, it forces him to look beyond the facade of himself and everyone he thought he knew in his town. What he sees instead is that in a small town like Lewis Creek, maybe baseball isn’t everything—maybe it is just the thing that ties them all together.
Description taken from Goodreads.
Reading swear words on every page, about hatred of small towns, and about the greatness of barbecue aren’t usually for me. My experiences with novels in Southern settings have been few, far-between, and generally not very positive. The ones I have enjoyed were not completely set in the South (Emery Lord’s Open Road Summer) or just remarkably good (Ashely Poston’s We Own the Night), which is why Play On surprised me.
It’s the perfect read for anyone who wants a short, simple, sweet, Southern contemporary. It moves pretty quickly pacing-wise, it’s got an engaging narrative, and it has just enough depth to make it worth exploring. The plot was realistic, and I found myself enjoying the characters and actually enjoying reading about the setting and the baseball culture. However, it was truly enjoying the plot that really threw me off. I was disappointed because Play On could’ve been so much more. If everything was a bit more fleshed out, I could see this being a phenomenal story with great writing, which isn’t the case here.
A good way to see this that is through the complete, unadulterated, a-flower-by-any-other-name-would-still-be instalove. From the beginning, Austin and Marisa have a flirty relationship and some chemistry (literally). Within two months, Austin is in good enough academic standing to be a strong player in baseball, and he and Marisa have a relationship. Objectively speaking, I generally view this as a bad literary move that, more often that not, shows a lack of depth in prose, experience in writing, and patience in plot. On an entertainment level though, it worked for me because I felt that it fit with the narrative and plot style. I still don’t think it was a good move, but it fit.
That’s the predicament with stories like Play On. It’s good for what it is, it could be more, but if you started adjusting things, then everything would have to be changed.
Overall, it wasn’t a bad story. Was entertaining, albeit a bit repetitive, and ended well. Not anything that readers should examine too deeply upon writing, but this book made me fall in love with its South Carolina setting and Southern feel. The characters were realistic, and Austin was actually the star of the entire show for me. I wanted to see much more of him at the end of the book. He was a great narrator, but I wish that he’d had more of a personality outside of devotion to Marisa and baseball. Would recommend based on circumstance. Not quite as much as Soman Chanani (for the last review I wrote), but I’d like to see what Smith comes out with in the future. 2.5 stars.