“The Competition” is a story centered around a group of students: Mary Sofia, Michael, Raiden, and Camara, and the Penultimate Writing Competition where the prize is a full ride to a top prestigious college. The competition consists of a two-day writing contest involving 100 high school students who are given a series of prompts and must produce a piece on each prompt. Each student has different reasons for pursuing the contest — some desperately need the money to have a shot at college, others are in pursuit of honors.
I was attracted to this book for two reasons. First, I noted the author is also a northern Ohioan (I live near Cleveland). Second, I’ve never read a book centered on a writing competition and thought the premise was neat.
The book’s strongest points for me were the complex characters, the overall premise, and the real-world setting. I particularly like male characters who are complex and thought the young men in the story were well-drawn and refreshingly sensitive, although the most compelling character in the story for me was Mary Sofia. I also felt this book was well-plotted, and without spoiling the story, I liked how the author wrapped up the novel on a (very) positive message. But what I liked best about this book was I felt the author captured what it’s like to be a writer — especially the self-doubt which goes along with writing. I am also a writer, and many of the things the author touches upon, especially the risk-taking which comes along in baring your soul and exposing pieces of your past to the world’s prying eyes and harsh criticisms, are things which I found extremely relatable.
What kept this from being a five-star read for me was I had some difficulty keeping the characters straight due to occasional head-hopping, and I feel like the story would have benefited from more dialogue tags; at times, I was having to stop and go back to try and figure out who was the speaker. It also took me a little time to get into the story. However, as reflected by the four-star rating I gave, the well-crafted characters & the relatability of the book definitely outweighed these minor quibbles.
I received an advance review copy for free, and I am leaving this review voluntarily.