Author: Sara Bennett Wealer
Publisher: Harper Collins
May Contain Spoilers
Human hatred is. Anybody who doubts that should feel the hate waves coming off of Brooke Dempsey. But I don’t shatter; I’m not made of glass. Anyway, the parts that break aren’t on the outside.
Brooke and Kathryn used to be best friends . . . until the night when Brooke ruthlessly turned on Kathryn in front of everyone. Suddenly Kathryn was an outcast and Brooke was Queen B. Now, as they prepare to face off one last time, each girl must come to terms with the fact that the person she hates most might just be the best friend she ever had.
When Rival first came out, the book flew under my radar. It wasn’t until reviews started popping up that I realized that it was another contemporary featuring music as a backdrop. I loved Virtuosity by Jessica Martinez, so I added Rival to my library hold list. I wanted to revisit the competitive world where gifted musicians put their talent on the line. This time their instruments were their voices, and the prize was a hefty check to help with college expenses. For Brooke, the competition is about winning her dad’s attention, and expressing her love for music. For Kathryn, it means giving her already cash strapped parents a hand with her tuition bills.
Like Virtuosity, the girls must battle with rival singers, and they must also battle with their own inner demons. Kathryn yearns to be somebody, and when A-lister Brooke befriends her, everything changes for Kathryn. Unfortunately, her sudden popularity goes right to her head, and Kathryn soon becomes somebody who is very hard to like. She turns her back on her best friend, starts lying to her parents, and lets her grades plummet.
As Kathryn is drawn further into Brooke’s clique and starts hanging out with Brooke’s other friends, Brooke begins to wrestle with jealousy. She liked Kathryn when it was just the two of them, talking about music, listening to operas, and going to performances at the local college. Little by little, Brooke begins to change too. She allows her envy to eat away at her, and soon, Kathryn and Brooke are mortal enemies, after their emotions flare out of control at a party. Now Kathryn must deal with bullying as she becomes a social pariah, and Brooke is left with even more feelings of groundlessness. Her friends don’t understand her, and she knows that they will never get how important music is to her.
Told through alternating flashbacks to their junior year and their current, intense rivalry now that they are seniors, Sara Bennett Wealer weaves a gripping, compelling look at a friendship gone terribly wrong because of a misunderstanding and the inability of the protagonists, especially Brooke, to express their feelings. As Brooke becomes ever more dissatisfied with her friendships, she withdraws more into herself and refuses to confront her feelings. There’s a lot of angst here – Brooke has so many issues she is trying to deal with, but she can’t open up and confide in anyone, not even Kathryn. Everyone thinks that she’s one of the golden girls, but her popularity and her status as the Queen B don’t matter to Brooke. She just wants to lose herself in her music, and she desperately wants to win her father’s approval.
There were many times that I didn’t particularly like either character, but I did care about them. They are both flawed, which made them both more relatable. I kept hoping that they would get over themselves and see what they were throwing away because of their personal ambitions. I became impatient with both of them, because neither of them seemed to be learning from their mistakes. Kathryn grew especially trying as she morphed into someone totally opposite of who she had been before she started hanging out with Brooke’s social circle.
If you enjoy emotion-charged contemporaries, Rival is the book for you. It builds up slowly to a gripping, unflinching look at two friends turned to enemies, exposing their faults and flaws layer by complex layer. I could not put the book down as they grappled with their inner demons and their sudden and intense dislike for each other. I bet you won’t be able to put it down either.
Review borrowed from my local library