Title: Winner Take All
Author: Laurie Devore
Publisher: Imprint (Fierce Reads)
Publication Date: January 30, 2018
Genre(s): Young Adult, Contemporary, Mental Health Reads
Source: Won in Giveaway
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For Nell Becker, life is a competition she needs to win.
For Jackson Hart, everyone is a pawn in his own game.
They both have everything to lose.
Nell wants to succeed at everything—school, sports, life. And victory is sweeter when it means beating Jackson Hart, the rich, privileged, undisputed king of Cedar Woods Prep Academy. Yet no matter how hard she tries, Jackson is somehow one step ahead. They’re a match made in hell, but opposites do attract.
Drawn to each other by their rivalry, Nell and Jackson fall into a whirlwind romance that consumes everything in their lives. But when a devastating secret exposes their relationship as just another game, how far will Nell go to win?
Visceral and whip-smart, Laurie Devore’s Winner Take All paints an unflinching portrait of obsessive love, toxic competition, and the drive for perfection.
*I WON THIS ARC IN A GIVEAWAY*
Also, I tried breaking up the spoilers and such and I had a lot of trouble, so proceed with caution. My final thoughts will be spoiler free if you just want to read that, but sorry gang, this is a full spoiler review.
Okay, so reviewing this book is going to be hard since I have A LOT of mixed emotions. I was between a lot of ratings but ultimately settled on a high 2 since I get what was going on in the book, but I don’t think the execution was the best. You all know I try to keep things positive here, but for the sake of honesty, this review is going to focus more on the negative. There was some good in here, don’t get me wrong, but I feel like the bad definitely clouded it.
So basically, this book is meant to serve as a warning about the dangers of obsession, toxic love/competition, and (maybe) untreated mental illness (at least I hope it is). This book follows overachiever Nell who wants to succeed at everything and has been conditioned by her mom that being number one is the only way to distance herself from the other students. Jackson is the rich kid who has everything handed to him, or so it seems. These two start a romance in spite of their competition, but it appears to be just another game…
Right? That sounds like it could be kind of good. Like a hate to love kind of thing. Here’s the problem, several aspects of the narrative were just…off.
Nell was one of the most unlikable main characters I have EVER has the misfortune to read. She was selfish and everything was about her. She looked at things through a twisted lense and blamed EVERYTHING on someone else. That being said, any person who was the know-it-all in high school or felt the pressure to succeed could resonate with her (at times). And this conflicting feeling was demonstrated throughout the ENTIRE BOOK. Worse, every time Nell seems to grow as a character, she will resort back to her problematic behaviors. She also used the same excuse for blaming people and would never recognize hypocritical behaviors or listen when other people are telling her to let something go or to calm down. It isn’t until the last like 50 pages that she acts like she understands the significance of everything, which is like, okay but everyone has been saying this to you throughout the entire book. I get that people take time to get things and that getting to rock bottom is sometimes what it takes and all that jazz. Like I get it. But HOLY HELL it was annoying to read because she was so unlikeable. Also, that last move she made pissed me off. Like, leave Taylor out it your beef.
Jackson was actually a super likable character. The character that you’re supposed to hate was more enjoyable to read than the person I’m supposed to be rooting for. That’s always a good sign. What I liked about Jackson is that he’s always honest with what he’s doing. His “big crime” is something that, yeah he doesn’t fess up right away, but as soon as he is confronted with it, he didn’t mess around He was like, yeah I did that. Sorry. He says several times that he doesn’t hate Nell, that he never wanted to enter a competition with her, and when they’re dating, he actually tries to show her affection or say that he cares for her and every single time she shuts him down. Like Jackson needs an award for putting up with Nell’s crap this entire book. Also, I guess I don’t see what the big deal is about Nell’s mom sleeping with Jackson’s dad. Like it sounds icky and there’s an affair and such, but if you read the adult’s reactions to this news, everyone seems to know before Nell finds out. So why is she so mad? Is it just because Jackson was “using” her?
Oh and Nell’s freakout about Jackson using her still pisses me off. She consistently was the one that pushed the relationship forward. She first initiated sex. She kept calling him over. She kept shutting down any affection or emotional reaction he said. I swear, every time he said I love you or something along those lines, she was like “I know you didn’t mean it.” Honey, you don’t get to be mad at him. Like okay, be pissed he didn’t tell you about the affair, but that’s it. The four months of dating and emotional distance is all on you. And when YOU break up with him, YOU don’t get to be mad that he’s flirting with other girls. Sorry, you gave that up.
The last thing I’m going to on was the importance of status in this school. I get it, it’s a prep school. You’re going to do that thing that private school is better than public and they have more resources and blah blah blah. I get it. That trope doesn’t piss me off. It’s Nell’s description of it. In the first couple chapters, Nell talks about how she is “just a step above a scholarship student” and how she needs to work hard for maintaining status and success and stuff. Okay, sure. But then there are chapters that start with like a narration sentence that suggest that other schools the volleyball team is playing doesn’t have a chance because the private school team is so good. What threw me off is that both characters and general narration carried this viewpoint, but there were times where characters contradicted it. Like Nell would talk about poor here not being a rich kid then brag about how good she and the team is and how other people don’t have a chance. Honey, check your privilege for a sec. It would be one thing if accepted that she had an advantage or just accepted that she was super good and was just straight up bragging. It’s the fake entitlement the victimization that’s so irritating. Fortunately, this only comes up a few times, but it still bugged me.
Oh and the author likes to present things in a weird order sometimes. There’s a chapter that introduces a character of color and how people at first were apprehensive about having a POC at the school and how Nell and her friend are sitting with the opposing team because this kid’s family is sitting with the school since their son is playing. It’s not for another page or two you learn that Nell is avoiding this kid because his mom put her friend’s dad in jail. See, that’s an important detail that probably should have been included before the “avoiding the black kid” part.
Okay, I’m just starting to rant now and not constructively review this book, so I’m going to wrap up.
Winner Take All is a book that can be viewed as a cautionary tale. You follow Nell’s downward spiral and the consequences associated with it to see what not to do or what not to become. Younger readers who are feeling the pressure to succeed or people who are focused on perfection to an obsessive level can read this book as a reference to motivate change…if they dig real deep.
Getting personal here, I’ve been the know it all kid. I’m a perfectionist and have felt the pressure to succeed by my family and myself. I’ve cried during an exam because I was so stressed about potential failure. I’ve pushed people away and drifted away from friends because succeeding in class was more important than a friendship. I’ve been in an academic competition and felt like a failure because my GPA, while good wasn’t what I wanted. I’ve been Nell and I resonated with Nell during those parts of the book and actually thought that was represented really well. Unfortunately, those aspects feel like they get lost in the other toxic, hypocritical, and negative behaviors that Nell engages in.
I can see how readers would like this book. I can see how readers would hate this book. I personally feel like this is a book where you’re not going to feel in the middle about it. I feel like most people are going to either hate it or love it.
Do I recommend it? No, not really.
But if you’re curious to pick it up, for sure. I’m not going to be the person that condemns this book to a fiery hell. I think the topics attacked was compelling and there are times where it was relatable and pretty good, but other times where it was just painful and irritating.
⭐️⭐️✨ – 2.5 Stars