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"Saying 'I notice you're a nerd' is like saying, 'Hey, I notice that you'd rather be intelligent than be stupid, that you'd rather be thoughtful than be vapid, that you believe that there are things that matter more than the arrest record of Lindsay Lohan. Why is that?' In fact, it seems to me that most contemporary insults are pretty lame. Even 'lame' is kind of lame. Saying 'You're lame' is like saying 'You walk with a limp.' Yeah, whatever, so does 50 Cent, and he's done all right for himself."— John Green



Title: Dangerous Play
Authors(s): Emma Kress
Publication Date: August 3, 2021
Edition: Hardcover, paperback, eBook, audiobook; 352 pgs
PublisherRoaring Brook Press
Source: Rockstar Book Tours
Purchase: Amazon - Kindle - Audible - B&N - BAM! - iBooks - Kobo - TBD - Bookshop.org
Disclaimer: I received a copy from the publisher as part of a blog tour in exchange for an honest review. My thoughts and opinions are my own.  Please note the purchase links above are affiliate links.

Tour Schedule

Week One
8/3/2021 - YABooksCentral - Interview
8/4/2021 - Rajiv's Reviews - Review
8/5/2021 - Everyone's Librarian - Review
8/6/2021 - @Curlygrannylovestoread - Review
8/7/2021 - celiamcmahonreads - Review

Week Two
8/8/2021 - booksaremagictoo - Review
8/9/2021 - Books and Zebras @jypsylynn - Review
8/10/2021 - onemused - Review
8/11/2021 - Nonbinary Knight Reads - Review
8/12/2021 - Eli to the nth - Review

The Summary

A fierce team of girls takes back the night in this propulsive, electrifying, and high-stakes YA debut from Emma Kress

Zoe Alamandar has one goal: win the State Field Hockey Championships and earn a scholarship that will get her the hell out of Central New York. She and her co-captain Ava Cervantes have assembled a fierce team of dedicated girls who will work hard and play by the rules.

But after Zoe is sexually assaulted at a party, she finds a new goal: make sure no girl feels unsafe again. Zoe and her teammates decide to stop playing by the rules and take justice into their own hands. Soon, their suburban town has a team of superheroes meting out punishments, but one night of vigilantism may cost Zoe her team, the championship, her scholarship, and her future.

Perfect for fans who loved the female friendships of Jennifer Mathieu’s Moxie and the bite of Courtney Summer’s Sadie
My Review

Right out the gate, this book pulls you in.  Emma Kress crafts an unflinching, full-bodied, emotional story of agency: over one's body, over one's safety, and over one's future.  With the high impact sport of field hockey as a vehicle to bind this group of girls together, the reader will find not just one character, but multiple characters to connect to while exploring some of the very tough, but very real, situations within the pages of Dangerous Play.

I am not a big sports fan; I don't tend to watch sports and I only participated in the required gym activities.  But I was instantly enamored with this focused and deadly (on-the-field) group of field hockey girls.  Zoe is our narrator, the co-captain of the team, along with Ava.  Together through the summer they tagged specific girls, including Zoe's best friend Liv and one of the "outsiders" of the school, Dylan, to train up in order to obtain one goal: win States.  For the co-captains, and Zoe in particular, this win would set them on the path to win scholarships for college.  So everything for them is on the line.

But then Zoe is sexually assaulted and everything changes for her, and the team.

Emma Kress explores the very real experience of a high school girl when it comes to having some sort of bad/horrible/violent sexual experience.  The statistics on sexual assault, attempted rape, and rape are scary when you research it.  And most of those statistics are directly about the female population, with higher statistics on trans youth.  I guarantee that if you talk to a random group of women and girls, you will find that almost all of them have some sort of incident, no matter how "small" it may be.  

Kress puts this reality to the forefront with deft hands, centering the conversation through Zoe and other members of her team.  How it effects everything in someone's life, and becomes, as it did for Zoe, the "Before" and "After".  And it is the "After" that is expanded upon. A focus on autonomy and agency, how much of the culture is perpetuated within our schools and our homes.  How the intersection of race and socioeconomic status make assault more prevalent.  This is the conversation that is both timely and needed.

But with this important reflection comes the authenticity of Zoe and her life.  She loves field hockey, she loves her friends, and she loves her parents.  All of these things are a deep part of her, and help her come to terms with what happened.  There is laughter mixed with sorrow.  There is happiness mixed with anger.  And there is love mixed with hate.  This group of girls will feel real because they are real.  The reader will know or have known one of these girls.  Zoe is an excellent spearhead to experience this story through, but the reader will also connect with the team as a whole.

An excellent book, a much needed book, and must buy book, Dangerous Play by Emma Kress is not one to be missed.  Out now, you can purchase wherever books are sold (or enter below for your chance to win a finished copy).

Final Rating



THE AIR FEELS DIFFERENT OUT here—wilder, freer. In a few minutes, our girls will jump out of windows and leap off roofs all over town. Ava already has. She’ll be here soon. I could leap off this roof, swing around the elm branch, and let go into a tight flip before landing on the ground. It would totally get a 10 from the German judge.

But the soles of my shoes stick to my bedroom floor, and my hands hold tight to the window frame. I’m not Ava.

And I don’t do rooftops.

I tuck my head back inside, shut the window, and head to my parents’ room. I lean my note on Dad’s nightstand but send one of his pill bottles rattling to the ground. So much for subtle.

Sure enough, his eyes open, narrow and cloudy. “Sorry,” I whisper, grabbing the bottle. “Go back to sleep.”

“Hey, Zoe. Mom home yet?” He turns to check the other side of the bed, but his face tightens, as if a burst of pain radiated across his back.

“No, no.” I guide him back onto his side. “It’s still early.”

He checks the alarm clock: 11:28 p.m. He smirks. “You leaving me another note? Most teenagers just do the respectable thing and sneak out.”

“I am totally sneaking out. We’re just having a conversation first.” I check the notepad I put by his bed. “It looks like you could take another pain pill. Do you want one? More water?”

“I’m fine. You have fun at that frat party now.”

“Sure, Dad.” I kiss him on the forehead. “Don’t be surprised if I come home pregnant.”

“Don’t forget drunk and high!” He sticks his thumb up.

I close the door on his laugh.

Rushing back to my room, I grab my stick and backpack, and tap my Tar Heels poster for good luck before dashing down the stairs and out the front door.

* * *

When I slide into the big van’s passenger seat, Ava smiles at me. “I’ll bet you a giant plate of Tully’s chicken tenders and mozzarella sticks that you left a note.”

I refuse to look at her. “Shut up and drive, Cap’n.”

“Aye, aye, Cap’n.” She laughs. “I’ll also take payment in anything cheesy … Doritos, nachos, pastelitos, Cheetos. What do Os have to do with cheese?”

We drive down sleepy streets, windows open, gathering our team of girls dressed in black who tumble out of their windows, forward roll down their front lawns, and pile into the back of the van, their sticks clanging against the metal floor, their laughs bouncing off the roof. The girls bump into one another when the van turns, limbs tangling.

We take Lakeview Road, with its small one-story houses packed tightly on one side and the expanse of lake on the other. The lake is big enough that you can’t really see the other side, especially at night. A ways down, the road winds away from the lake, and the only people with access to the view are the ones who can pay for it. But here, it’s open to all of us.

We pull into the empty lot of the beach. North of Syracuse, this is about as close as we get to a real beach. I pretend the lake with its dark water and dark beyond is the ocean, that I’m someplace better and warmer than here, and that I’m on the edge—the very edge of everything old and new and just beginning. I breathe in the air thick with water, lake weeds, and tumbled earth and let the warmth of it soak in.

Tonight it’s nothing but us, sand, water, and moonlight.

We scramble out of the van, and the lake bounces our laughter back to us. Four girls plant goals with glow-in-the-dark flags, while others volley the glow-in-the-dark ball back and forth on the flat of their sticks. I slide face paint across Ava’s cheeks, the neon-blue streaks bright against the night.

“Blue team here!” Ava shouts, and she paints her team as they come to her.

Liv marks me with my favorite color. “Green!” I call, and my group clumps together, marking one another’s faces. Our individual features fade away, and we become darkened bodies with glowing stripes in school colors that crinkle when we laugh.

“What do you say, Cap? No rules?” Dylan wiggles her eyebrows, her peroxide-blond hair catching the moonlight.

I tilt my head at her. She’s always pushing it. “Save it for parkour. Tonight’s all about fockey.”

Liv knocks her stick against Dylan’s. “Besides. Your version of no rules might involve someone losing a leg.”

Dylan smiles, twisting her stick in her hands. “I just think these sticks would look better with a little blood on ’em.”

Liv laughs.

We knock sticks and run to position. “Sticks Chicks!” Our two centers tap the ground beside the ball and click sticks three times before each tries to strike it. Green wins the ball and takes off, and Blue swears as we whoop toward the goal.

Sticks beat shins, faces eat sand, and arms throb from whacking the sand dunes that rise and dip around us. Beach hockey makes for some mad conditioning. After months of training plus a summer of midnight games, our bodies are weapons-grade. And it doesn’t matter what’s happening at home or that school’s starting soon because beaches and moonlight make everything better. When we break for water, we’re panting, but smiling.

Last fall, we finished yet another sucktastic season of field hockey where we lost nearly every game. So in a radical move, Coach made me and Ava co-captains, seeing as we were the only players who’d ever tried anyway. For ten months, we handpicked and trained a new fockey team for the coming season. This fockey team.

“Not a bad group,” Ava says.

I look at her. “We made this happen.” We click sticks. “Coach is going to shit herself when she sees a full-blown team show up on Monday.”

“Ew.” Liv crinkles her face at me. “I haven’t met the woman yet. I definitely don’t want to see her shit herself.”

I smile, but I’m thinking of our team, of Coach’s face. Because of us, we’re powerful enough to get to States and bring the scouts. The sureness of it fills me up as big as the lake, until my feet can’t stay still. I race across the sand, slamming it with my stick. “Fockey time!”

Blue takes it first, but Green steals it back, and the ball soars to me. I tap-tap it over the sandy divots, their edges hard in the moonlight, their dips like black holes. The goal flags wave at me from the other end: an invitation. I run against the wind, lifting my stick high to drive the ball over the dunes and between the flags.

Something blurs my vision.

An animal storms onto the sand. No, not an animal. A girl. My stick connects with the ball all wrong and it arcs through the air and splinters the flag post.

“Hey!” someone yells at her. “What’s your problem?”

“Who runs out in the middle of a game?”

“I—I’m sorry.” The girl’s out of breath and twitchy. “I didn’t…” She looks behind her and I follow her gaze, squinting toward the parking lot, to the houses I know squat beyond. But the night is too close, too dark, and I can’t see anything. A car door slams in the distance and she jumps. “I—I have to go.” She turns.

“Are you okay?” I reach out my hand, but she flinches before I even touch her.

“I have to go.” She looks back into the blackness, then at us, then back again, pressing her hands down her shirt again and again like she’s trying to press out the wrinkles. “I—I’m sorry about your game.” And just like that she takes off down the road, the opposite way from where she came.

It isn’t like running or jogging. It’s more like crashing.

“They said ‘venti coffee?’ She said, ‘twenty coffees.’”

“That’s a walk of shame. Did you see her shirt?”

“I know! It was buttoned all wrong. Someone was gettin’ busy.”

“I think her name is Nikki. We had Health together last year.”

“Nikki Cassavetti?”

Ava looks toward the goal. “Shit. Our flag broke. Nice going, Cap’n.”

But all I can think of is the girl. Nikki. Of the way her eyes didn’t seem to see anything at all. The way her white shirt blazed against the night. The way she shuddered and ran. And I wonder where she was running to—or what she was running from.

“No goal, no problem. Let’s swim.”

We strip down to our underwear and splash into the cool water, laughing, diving. Our shouts dance across the lake with the moonlight while our sweat and paint wash away in the dark water.

But every time I slip under and the voices dull above me, the cold dark closes in.

About the Author

Emma Kress is a graduate of Vassar College, Columbia University’s Teachers College, and the Vermont College of Fine Arts’ Writing for Children and Young Adults MFA program. An educator of over 20 years, Emma was a finalist for New York State Teacher of the Year in 2014. Before teaching, Emma worked in social services helping survivors of sexual assault. Now, she lives with her family in Saratoga Springs, NY.

3 winners will receive a finished copy of DANGEROUS PLAY, US Only.


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