Author: Nora Sakavic
Genre: Contemporary, Sports, Thriller
Publication Date: 15th January 2013
Read: April 4th – April 14th
Hope was a dangerous, disquieting thing, but he thought perhaps he liked it.
(TW for mentions of slurs and abuse.)
Neil is on the run from his murderous father, never staying in one place for too long, never settling down and making friends. But that all changes when the Foxes of Palmetto State University scout him for their Exy team. Neil signs a contract to play for the team, knowing it’s the last thing he should do when trying to stay under the radar, but he’s draw in by their leading player Kevin, a figure from his old life; he wants to know the other player better, but he can’t tell him who he really is.
I feel very conflicted about this book because the characters were dynamic and the storytelling addictive, but there were a number of abelist and homophobic slurs that I just couldn’t get past. When writers use slurs to foreground certain social issues, and draw the reader out of their comfort zone to showing why said issue is not acceptable, that’s a positive way of tackling inequalities and injustice. That’s the writer calling out problems and expressing how damaging they are. But the slurs in the Foxhole Court were normalised by the other characters, rather than being challenged, and they existed only to show how these characters were ‘damaged’ and ‘flawed’. It would have been less malign to have one of the adult characters challenge the teenagers’ language, but this never happens. Instead one of the adult characters uses similar slurs.
To me, using a slur shows a lack of empathy and an inherent bias or event hatred towards a marginalised group, and I see enough of this in real life go unchallenged, so I just wanted to see more stance against it in the book. Sadly it didn’t deliver. Other issues were several unhealthy relationships between characters that bordered on abusive, rape jokes – “Nicky’s scheming to rape Neil” – and one character’s mental health issues being trivialised as “a little bit crazy”. Although they only cropped up several times in the novel, these issues seriously dampened my enjoyment of the book and I think it needs a number of TWs adding in before the very first page.
Having said all that, there were some aspects of the book I really liked; Exy, the sport the book centres around, is a co-ed game so both women and men can play on court together and the main women characters were just as confident, powerful and enterprising as the men. There were fewer female characters, but if anything their idiosyncrasies were made even more distinctive by their smaller numbers and the captain of the team is a woman.
As the main character, you can’t help but root for Neil. He’s been on the run for years, never able to fully relax, and although it’s hardened his persona, it’s never dampened his spirit and will to survive. Most of the other male characters seem rude, arrogant and dangerous, with short attention spans and bad habits, but when the team comes together on the court, their dysfunctional nature works in their favour. Plus, they’re the underdog in the league, and I always end up rooting for the underdog.
The writing style is simplistic – no vivid metaphors or flourishing descriptions – but works well for the quick-paced descriptions of the game and instances of brutal dialogue that occur quite frequently. Also, if you came for the LGBT romance, prepare to be disappointed; there’s none in this book. There are hints that may well develop later in the series (so I’ve heard), but no explicit relationship develops in this novel.
So I’m very conflicted. Despite numerous issues, the book draws you in; the character development is captivating and I want to continue the series to find out what happens to Neil. But I couldn’t ignore the issues that cropped up and as a result couldn’t rate it any higher than 2.5 stars because the slurs and lack of challenges against them really dampened my enjoyment of the book. I also think this book has the potential to hurt people (however much the author might not have intended it) who have been affected by these issues, so I’d recommend caution when going into it.