When 16-year-old Raina Resnick is expelled from her Manhattan private school, she’s sent to live with her strict aunt — but Raina feels like she’s persona non grata no matter where she goes. Her sister, Leah, blames her for her broken engagement, and she’s a social pariah at her new school. In the tight-knit Jewish community, Raina finds she is good at one thing: matchmaking! As the anonymous “MatchMaven,” Raina sets up hopeless singles desperate to find the One. A cross between Jane Austen’s Emma, Dear Abby, and Yenta the matchmaker, Raina’s double life soon has her barely staying awake in class. Can she find the perfect match for her sister and get back on her good side, or will her tanking grades mean a second expulsion?
Title: Playing with Matches
Author: Suri Rosen
Source: ARC from publisher
Publication date: September 9, 2014
I received Playing with Matches from ECW Press in exchange for an honest review.
Growing up in a small midwestern town, my exposure to Jewish people was limited to characters in Judy Blume and Norma Klein books that we passed around on the playground in elementary and middle school. Even now, you don’t run across too many Jewish main characters in YA. Before reading Playing with Matches, I didn’t know anything about Jewish culture and I had no idea matchmaking is even a thing.
But it is, and it’s a delightful thing! The matchmakers don’t just match people up and then step out of the way. Raina is called upon, time and time again. She’s asked to intervene in bad dates, to find a new match when the initial ones don’t work out, and to provide emotional support every step along the way. Fortunately, once a good match is made a proposal follows quickly and Raina’s work is done.
The situations Raina finds herself in are hilarious. Each time she has to scramble to avoid detection she digs herself in even deeper. Some of her clients know her true identity, but most don’t realize that she’s only a high school student with no romantic history of her own. I appreciate that this isn’t a typical romance like most YA contemporaries I’ve read. Raina is so absorbed in trying to keep up her matchmaking that she doesn’t have time to even think about finding a boyfriend for herself. In fact, aside from the clients who she becomes close to — anonymously via email — her only friend in Toronto is Dahlia, an outcast at school. I like Dahlia but her role in the book is minor and I wish she played a bigger part. Running a matchmaking service is stressful and Raina could use a little more support than she gets.
The one character in the book who I can’t stand is Raina’s sister Leah. Leah’s fiancé dumped her because of the situation that led to Rain being kicked out of her New York City school and being sent to Toronto. Instead of thanking Raina for getting her away from the loser who showed his true colors over that one, Leah blames and distrusts her. I get that she’s heartbroken over her broken engagement, but that’s all on Ben, not Raina. Raina’s situation, as awful as it was, had nothing to do with Ben or even Leah.
Raina still loves her sister, though, so she wants to help her out when Leah contacts Matchmaven, looking for a setup for herself. She’s not too heartbroken to start dating, but is still a bitch to Raina over it? Leah, I hate you. Raina is far more forgiving than I am. Oh, and you got dog vomit in your car. Haha!
As the email pleas to Matchmaven start rolling in, Raina soon finds herself completely immersed in other people’s romantic problems and starts ignoring her schoolwork. Finding matches, particularly one for Leah, becomes her mission in life. Raina was never a good student to begin with and this is a disaster. She’s basically failing out of her new school, which puts her into even more trouble at home. (Aunt Mira is no picnic either.)
Of course it’s all going to work out for her in the end, and in Playing with Matches, the journey is definitely worth it. This is such a unique, fun story. It’s exactly the reason I accept review requests.
ECW Press has provided me with two finished copies of Playing with Matches for a giveaway. These are paperbacks, so US only. I’m not really one to admire physical copies of books, but this book is CUTE: the cover, the font, the arrows, the colors, all of it. To continue the theme, the font and arrows are used in chapter headings.