Play the Game!

June 17, 2015

I’ve been having a really hard time writing about Play the Game! by Ruth Comfort Mitchell, and I don’t know why. I liked it but I didn’t love it. It wasn’t what I expected. And that’s the way I feel about a lot of books that I have no trouble writing about.

So there’s this girl, Honor Carmody. She’s kind of tomboyish and motherly at the same time. She’s got a stepfather who’s not super relevant to the plot, but who is easily the most enjoyable character. She’s got a boy-next-door best friend, Jimsy King. She does a lot of his schoolwork for him so he can continue to be a football star, but it feels supportive on her side rather than exploitative on his. Also, Jimsy comes from a notoriously wild family, and everyone expects that at some point he will develop an alcohol problem.

Then there’s Carter Van Meter, who moves to their street when Honor and Jimsy are in high school and becomes friends with them both. He’s physically disabled and very smart and cultured, and also has never in his life been denied anything he’s asked for. He and Jimsy both fall in love with Honor — I mean, of course they do, and honestly, I can see the appeal, because she’s so solid and enthusiastic at the same time, if also inarticulate and probably a little dull if you’re not into sports. And then (also of course) she falls in love with Jimsy, and Carter tries to break them up by encouraging Jimsy’s wild side and subtly trying to undermine him with everyone he talks to. I mean, “never been denied anything” is almost always a synonym for “asshole,” right? Eventually the three of them get caught up in a bit of the Mexican Revolution, and the story takes on a sort of British boys’ adventure story quality, which took me by surprise, but in retrospect probably shouldn’t have.

I basically liked it. I had to change up my expectations a couple of times, and I like it when an author surprises me. I also liked the family relationships, which were many and varied, and the fact that the characters are wholesome without confining themselves to wholesome subjects. But I also have no desire to ever reread this book.


  1. It sounds to me like the characters weren’t developed beyond stereotypes.

    • The boys are definitely stereotypes. Honor and her stepfather are a little more interesting. Honor isn’t your usual perfect heroine, and actually, she and Jimsy are both sort of allowed and acknowledged to not be that bright, which is different.

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