Summary: To survive having an abusive father, Dani and her younger sister Kelly escape by playing a made-up fantasy game. One day Dani finds herself in Rosewood, a mental institution, after a suicide attempt and she has trouble remembering the previous year of her life. Forbidden to see her father, and at odds with her mother, Dani writes to Kelly to warn her to be careful at home and avoid drawing the abuse on herself, but receives no response. Instead she finds family in Alison and Kevin, fellow patients at Rosewood who also know hardship first hand. Together, they support each other and find the courage to face the truth of their lives, taking care of themselves before others for once.
Number of Pages: 208
Age Range: 15-17
Review: At first I wondered why Teresa Toten titled her book, The Game, because while Dani and her sister have their own world and adventures, it wasn’t talked about a whole lot in the story. But then about halfway through I realised how many games were actually being played. Definitely more than I first thought.
I loved the complexity of Toten’s story. Dani finds herself in a mental institution with limited memories about the past year of her life after a suicide attempt. The tension is palpable and steadily builds as readers discover more and more about Dani’s life during the book’s skillful progression. I appreciated the scenes of backstory involving Dani and her father as well as Dani and her sister, as Toten informs without overwhelming her reader.
What struck me was though Dani and her sister were working through their reality by battling imaginary dragons in something they called the Game, Dani and her friends were actually unwitting players in much more serious and real games. Dani endured her father’s physical abuse since she was five years old, playing the game of keeping him happy even though she was never sure what the rules actually were. In the mental institution, some patients are there because their parents can’t deal with reality, and others because their parents have enough money to keep them out of jail. In this manner Toten introduces her reader to the games we play to survive, denying abuse and sexuality to appease the ones we love until the truth must come out. The best part is the mental institution is a haven for previous game players because it is a place where only truth is valued.
Dani’s friends, Alison and Kevin, in the mental institution are wonderful, but I was especially touched by Dani’s relationship with her mother. There was so much her mother had to answer for in her years of silence about the abuse, and Toten honoured the feelings of anger Dani has while bringing about a believable reconciliation. I loved that even if things didn’t work out with her mother in the long run, Dani still has the option of a home with her family of friends.
It’s a thought-provoking story, and while I did suspect what was coming, I still had my questions when it actually happened. Was Dani’s father playing the game with her sister too?
I’d recommend The Game for mid-teen female readers looking for a book with excellent character growth.
“If you think I was bad for not seeing Mother for a few weeks, there’s this multiple on D Ward with eleven different personalities and none of them will have anything to do with her mother. I admire a lunatic with principles.” – Dani from The Game by Teresa Toten, page 96
“‘Not ever.’ She turned away. ‘Not you, me, Scratch, Bobby, or Janice or even Jared. No matter what they say.’
‘But then what, Kevin? There has to be a “better” than this, a “better” than how I was before this. There has to be more than how I am now, please God.’
He started to amble around the room. ‘The way I figure it is that whatever brought you in here, Dani, you got to face it. Square. And when you get out, you learn how to wear it.’
‘Yeah,’ he nodded, ‘like some kind of invisible coat that you can’t take off. It has to be on all the time, every single moment of your life.’
This was so not what she wanted to hear.
‘Okay, so sometimes it’s too hot, and sometimes it’s too heavy because, I don’t know, it’s wet with rain or something. But it’s your coat. You learn to wear it. There’ll be times when you don’t even know you’ve got it on. And then sometimes there’ll be a breeze and you walk around unbuttoned and it’ll be okay. And then one day you’ll be actually grateful, because it’s just so unbearably cold and that stupid coat will save your butt.’ He smiled, delighted with himself. ‘Yeah.’
Dani got into his pacing path.
‘Do you get it?’
‘I do.’ She stopped suddenly and they collided. ‘Sort of.’
‘I’m still working it all out in my head,’ he pouted. ‘I wasn’t ready for a formal presentation.'” – Conversation between Kevin and Dani from The Game by Teresa Toten, pages 139-140
‘”I had to cut to survive the next minute. I couldn’t not or I would explode.’ She faced Dani again. ‘It’s like when you’d leave for the Game. You said you couldn’t not leave. You couldn’t stop it. I understood, Dani. I understand even before you could explain it properly.’ She glanced back to her arm. ‘But that was then, as they say. Only . . . only . . . look, Dani. Look what’s left.’ Tears welled in her eyes. ‘I make myself sick.’
‘No, Alison, don’t. They’re battle scars.’ Dani gently stroked her arm. ‘It’s like this war took place all over your body. But you won, Alison. The only thing I really understand is that you won and then you helped me win.'” – Conversation between Alison and Dani from The Game by Teresa Toten, pages 171-172