Title: This Gorgeous Game
Author: Donna Freitas
Publisher: Farrar Straus Giroux
Audience: Grade 7 and up
Summary: Life for Olivia Peters is perfect. A senior at Sacred Heart High School, she has won first prize in an important literary contest, a prize that guarantees her a place in the summer class taught by Father Mark Brenden and revision of her entry under his guidance. Father Mark is a noted and successful author, a charismatic figure, and ( if Catholics had idols) her idol. Olivia is also beginning her first high school romance with Jamie, a college freshman at Holy Mary University where the class will be held. Olivia is firmly grounded in the Catholic Church: Catholic school, pastoral care from Catholic priests when her father abandoned the family; a mother and sister who take faith seriously. So when Father Mark’s attentions become personal, his demands on her time more persistent, she feels uncomfortable but keeps reminding herself to be grateful for this opportunity, to remember that he is a priest vowed to chastity. He insists that she read his short story, “This Gorgeous Game,” paralleling his feelings for her with Thomas Merton’s for “M.” (Merton was a well known author and Trappist monk who fell in love at age 50 with “M”) Olivia feels trapped. Essentially Father Mark is stalking her, yet if she complains who will believe her? If she reveals his story, what will she be doing to her church? Olivia blames God for this painful situation. Then she draws on the support of friends, family, and Sister June, her high school principal, to confront her problem courageously.
Literary elements at work in the story: “This Gorgeous Game” is the phrase Merton used to describe his flirtation with his young nurse, “M.” Quotations from Merton’s Journal and his poetry are scattered throughout the book so obviously his history has helped to shape this story. This is a first person narrative, told in the present tense in the voice of an increasingly troubled teen ager. Much of the story takes place in her rather innocent and immature mind. Nothing “happens” sexually but the author creates a sense of violation and danger as Father Mark’s demands more of Olivia’s time and interest.
How does the perspective on gender/race/culture/economics/ability make a difference to the story? The book is peopled by distinct, believable characters: Olivia’s creative, loving mother; Sister June, a wise and discerning principal; Jamie, a witty, understanding first boyfriend; and Father Mark, himself. Neither economics or race enter the picture (one of Olivia’s friends may be African-American) Gender is an issue because male priests have unique positions of power in the Catholic hierarchy.
Theological Conversation Partners: This Gorgeous Game is told from a Catholic perspective and a number of ideas require explanation- the place of priests, of confession and absolution-and the explanation is clear and simple. It raises a number of nondenominational questions; What is the responsibility of the church when one of its leaders fails? What is our responsibility to one another when one member of the Body is wounded? How we do understand such failures and how can we see God at work in them? Galatians 6:1-5 Ministers in Protestant churches do not occupy the same position as priests in the Roman Catholic Church yet the church does require certain standards for its ministers. It could be profitable to talk about what good leadership is in the church. Where are our expectations unreasonable and where not high enough? Are young people familiar with the vows ministers take when they are ordained and/or installed in their churches?
Faith Talk Questions:
- Describe Olivia’s feelings when she first meets Father Mark.
- At the end of Section I she offers a prayer of thanks to God for sending Father Mark into her life. Are there indications that her sense of joy and well being will be threatened? Why has she not recognized this?
- If Olivia had confronted her fear sooner would the story have been different? Why is it so difficult for her to name Father Mark’s infatuation?
- “No one should bear the burden of our humanity alone”, says Sister June when she talks with Olivia in the chapel. What does she mean by “burden of our humanity?”
- Olivia says that this predicament is God’s fault so she cannot pray. Sister June can. Do you think her prayer is answered? Why?
- Olivia finds her way through writing her own version of “This Gorgeous Game.” How does she see God in this resolution?
- Olivia seems to make a distinction between relying on God and relying on friends like Sister June and Jamie. Is there a distinction?
This is the third review in our series on Teens and Faith. Next week, Marcelo in the Real World will be reviewed.