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Playing with Matches Hardcover – July 8, 2008


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Editorial Reviews

From School Library Journal

Grade 8 Up—Leon Sanders, 17, a self-described geek, craves the attention of perfection-personified Amy Green, who consistently ignores him. Resigned to life on the fringes of his suburban high school, he takes comfort in knowing that another junior scores zero for popularity: Melody Hennon, whose severely burned face has made her an outcast. When Leon tells Melody a bad joke and gets a genuine laugh, he is surprised to find an actual person behind the scars, and soon discovers that she shares his interests and offbeat humor. When Melody confides the details of her childhood accident, he tells her about a humiliating encounter with a bully that left him emotionally scarred. As their friendship turns to romance, Leon worries about the opinions of others, but people are accepting of their relationship. Then Leon finally catches Amy's eye. Faced with a dilemma, he allows himself to be lured away from the devastated Melody, but is soon overwhelmed by the emotional consequences. Leon's self-deprecating, ironic humor keeps an authentic edge running through the story as he explores new relationships and roles, and wrestles with doing the right thing. Melody is a resilient young woman whose experience with Leon helps her develop self-confidence. This is a strong debut novel with a cast of quirky, multidimensional characters struggling with issues of acceptance, sexuality, identity, and self-worth.—Joyce Adams Burner, Hillcrest Library, Prairie Village, KS
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From Booklist

Three billion women in the world, and the universe couldn’t spare one for Leon Sanders. Leon is a D & D-playing, Monty Python-watching, lame joke–telling, high-school junior. An act of kindness with loner Melody, a burn victim with severe scars and facial disfigurement, leads to friendship and then romance. Leon enjoys her company but worries about what others think, while Melody revels in feeling beautiful for the first time. Following a familiar plot trajectory, Leon pushes Melody aside after the class hottie, Amy, makes her move on him. First-time author Katcher pulls out a nice twist at the end, revealing Melody to be a girl who has been through fire both literally and figuratively and has emerged with uncommon strength. This is a successful blend of laugh-out-loud humor and a serious look at relationships. The secondary characters are delightful, including ADHD friends Jimmy and Johnny, Parking Lot Pete, and even Dan, the junior Hannibal Lector, who has more heart than he lets on. Recommend this to fans of John Green’s books; Katcher is an author to watch. Grades 8-11. --Cindy Dobrez
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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 304 pages
  • Publisher: Delacorte Books for Young Readers; 1St Edition edition (July 8, 2008)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0385735448
  • ISBN-13: 978-0385735445
  • Product Dimensions: 5.8 x 1.1 x 8.7 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 12.8 ounces
  • Average Customer Review: 4.8 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (18 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #1,491,914 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

More About the Author

Brian Katcher lives in Missouri with his wife and daughter, where he works as a school librarian. He still hasn't paid that parking ticket he got in West Virginia in 1997.

Customer Reviews

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7 of 7 people found the following review helpful By Mark Medric George on July 12, 2008
Format: Hardcover
With his debut novel, Brian Katcher has successfully crafted the bittersweet tale of a teenage boy's quest to find love in the tragicomic world of a typical suburban high school.

The novel's protagonist, Leon, is one of a new breed of literary subject: the iconoclastic and self-professed nerd, comfortable in his own skin, but yearning, ultimately, for something more than his circle of male friends can provide. While his long-held crush on the popular cheerleader Amy Green blossoms into something more real (and inconvenient) than he could've ever dared imagine, it is the budding relationship between Leon and Melody Hennon that forms the beating heart of the book. Melody's character is a marvel. Mr. Katcher manages to write a profoundly scarred young woman with such depth that you often forget, as does Leon, that she is scarred at all. While the reality of Melody's disfigurement is always acknowledged, it never overwhelms what is a truly astonishing character. The reader never questions why Leon would be drawn to Melody's wit and warmth, nor do we question her interest in him.

In the end, the plot resists easy answers to the many questions it poses about self-esteem, trust, love, and the great yearning all young people feel for acceptance by their peers. The author mixes laughter and tears in equal measure to produce a nuanced and deeply heartfelt look at young love in all its complex glory. Bravo to Mr. Katcher for a fine debut to his literary career.
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4 of 4 people found the following review helpful By Deborah J. George on October 20, 2008
Format: Hardcover
The book is certainly entertaining, but what I most enjoy are the insights about human nature in general, and about adolescence in particular. The author has either an amazing memory or an astounding capacity for observation and empathy.

The characters, their motivations, and their actions are entirely believable. The pacing is even, and the plot a perfect recipe for absorbing readers' attention.

The humane, respectful, and accessible manner in which Brian Katcher approaches his characters--and his topic--will win readers' hearts.

Several of my students are choosing to read this book, and they admire the way the author describes the events, personalities, and emotions of high school life with accuracy and compassion.

I hear them laugh aloud as they read, and I see their reluctance to put the book away. This behavior is quite an endorsement.
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4 of 4 people found the following review helpful By P. Lenox on September 12, 2008
Format: Hardcover
As I read this Young Adult novel I was brought back to my own years in high school with all the angst and emotions that entailed. I was rooting for Leon so strongly that it was painful to see him make the inevitable teenage boy mistakes. I was also constantly reminding myself that it was written by a man. The writer was able to capture the emotions of both the male lead and the female characters which was fascinating to read. This is more than YA fiction. It is a seriously good read for anyone.
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful By Angie on August 15, 2008
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
I am a teacher of young adults and a YA writer, myself. I ordered the book because I'm also writing a story about a burn victim. When I picked it up, I thought it might provide me some research material that may be useful, but what I got was much more. I literally read it in one evening, because I was dying to know how things turned out with Leon and Melody. Katcher's voice is astounding, and I was instantly rooting for Leon. The empathy and seriousness of the topic regarding burn victims is touching, but the author wrote the book in such an entertaining manner, that I didn't feel preached to.

Katcher understands popular teen culture and language. His use of slang is right on the mark, and he describes the high school experience quite effectively and believably. I am very impressed by Katcher's first novel. I believe he will be a YA writer to watch. Although his protagonist is male, I feel that girls will love this book. In fact, it may be more geared to a female audience because of the romantic elements. This is quite a feat for most male authors--to close in on an opposite gender audience. I feel that males will like the book as well. They will undoubtedly relate to Leon and his dating dilemmas. The sexual tension in the story is also right on the mark for YA. Katcher's voice reveals this tension...the male yearnings for sexual experience and its preoccupation.

The characters are diverse and enjoyable, and the book is a delightful and insightful read. I will definitely encourage my students to read this book, and I'll look forward to more from Brian Katcher. Bravo!
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful By Brittany Moore VINE VOICE on October 8, 2012
Format: Hardcover
Leon isn't all that attractive and has a weird sense of humor, so it's no wonder he's never had a girlfriend. He has a small group of friends though that are just as weird as he is. He also has a huge crush on Amy, the most attractive girl in the school. He's had a crush on her since seventh grade, but can never seem to approach her to even talk with her. Then there's Melody. She had an accident when she was younger that left her with no ears, no nose and scars all over her face. She was always the butt of everyone's joke, but then Leon starts talking with her. He finds that once you get past the initial shock of her face, she's actually an amazing person. But Leon doesn't know if he should settle for Melody, what if her loses his chance with Amy. He's going to have to make a decision though and things may not turn out in his favor. He has to decide whether to follow his heart or his eyesight and figure out which one matters to him more.

Leon was a very real character most of the time. Sometimes he got a bit too mushy, for a boy who thinks about sex so much. I enjoyed him though, even if sometimes he acted like a world class idiot. It happens, the grass is always greener on the other side. Leon was funny in a cute dorky way. He told a lot of terrible joke but made some quite humorous observations. I think I would have hung out with him in school. Melody was another great character, and I loved seeing her grow throughout the novel. It's hard for her, and it always will be, but if she's a stronger person it will be easier. Dan was a really strange character, but played a pretty big role in the book. He was sort of a devil-worshiping Jiminy Cricket. He always put things in perspective for Leon, even when Leon wasn't expecting it.
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