Title: The Next Competitor
Author: Keira Andrews
Length: 246 Pages
Category: Contemporary Romance
At a Glance:
Reviewed By: Sammy
Blurb: To win gold, figure skater Alex Grady must train harder than the competition morning, noon, and night. He’s obsessed with mastering another quadruple jump, and due to the lack of filter between his mouth and brain, doesn’t have a lot of friends. As for a boyfriend, forget it. So what if he’s still a virgin at twenty? The Olympics are only every four years–everything else can wait. Relationships are messy and complicated anyway, and he has zero room in his life for romance.
So it’s ridiculous when Alex finds himself checking out his boring new training mate Matt Savelli. Calm, collected “Captain Cardboard” is a nice guy, but even if Alex had time to date, Matt’s so not his type. Yet beneath Matt’s wholesome surface, there’s a dirty, sexy man who awakens a desire Alex has never experienced and can’t deny…
Review: The Next Competitor by Keira Andrews takes us into the highly competitive world of figure skating, and reminds us that fortune and fame not only carry a heavy price but that your life can turn on a dime—or, in this case, like catching an edge on faulty ice. Alex Grady is a gay, highly-strung, fiercely competitive skater, and a person who has the bad reputation of speaking his mind at the worst time. While Alex wishes he had a better filter between brain and mouth, he also has a bit of an attitude that he owes the world very little, but that doesn’t mean he is ungrateful. He recognizes completely all his family has sacrificed for him to get to the world stage in skating, and this, plus his own intense competitive drive, places a burden so huge on his shoulders that there are times when Alex feels as though his world is imploding and he simply cannot breathe.
Spending his every waking moment in practice with a seemingly cold-hearted coach, Alex has little time for anything else, much less a boyfriend. So imagine his surprise when the “cardboard” male partner of an up and coming pairs skating team turns out to be not only a kind and warmhearted young man but also someone who takes the time to see beneath Alex’s gruff, almost rude exterior, to the tender and caring soul beneath. Just as things begin to spark between Matt and Alex, tragedy strikes–Matt’s partner is taken out of the competitive world by a freak accident on ice that Matt blames himself for, and cannot seem to get past. Now it is Alex who must step outside his carefully constructed cocoon and risk losing his heart in order to help Matt, who is in need of a friend. The real question isn’t whether their friendship will blossom into something more, for that ship has already sailed. No, instead the question is, will their relationship affect how the two skate, and whether Alex can focus enough to make it on to the podium at the Olympics?
What made this story work so well was the running dialogue inside Alex’s head that flavored and shaped all his actions—and, unfortunately, at times his words. He wasn’t always the nicest of main characters—sometimes coming off as spoiled and uncaring and more than a bit frightened over his future. But because this author revealed so much of Alex’s inner turmoil and fears, the reader is able to grow not only in understanding why Alex acts as he does but also that most of his behavior stems from a real core of doubt over his talent, his virginity, his worth and, yes, his motivations for wanting to win the Olympics.
Competitive sports are crazy and merciless things—they grind up and spit out those who don’t have the backbone and stamina to fight their way to the top. Even those who do face real gut wrenching moments when they fail to deliver the needed skills that will propel them to the top. It is a lonely place to be—even more so when you are in a sport that still clings to its homophobic tendencies, and rates you on the latest performance you have turned in, even when it’s just a practice run. Alex is like a tightly corked volcano, and when he is with Matt, the constant churning flow that runs beneath the surface abates. Matt calms him, soothes him and loves him in a way that Alex cannot believe possible. And since Alex is so often his own worst enemy—overthinking both his routines and his own self worth—it is not a surprise when he nearly drives away the one guy who can actually do him some real good.
There is a great chemistry between these two young men—one that builds slowly and surely despite Matt’s need to remain somewhat closeted from his folks (a don’t ask, don’t talk about it scenario). They are young, busy with their lives on the ice, and trying their best to feel their way in this new relationship. Add to that Alex’s seemingly endless ability to sabotage his own happiness, and you have the makings for a tumultuous coupling that runs hot most of the time. While the secondary cast is not very well developed, Alex’s parents and sister play a key role, and for their small part help to give Alex some well needed grounding and stability. Matt is more of an anomaly, a loner of sorts, and other than his pairs partner, he remains a rather one-sided character who I wish we could have learned more about. However, despite these drawbacks the novel itself was a solid one—a good story that hid a bit of a punch behind its light exterior.
In the end, this novel, The Next Competitor, asks us all to reevaluate just what drives us—what is most important to us and whether or not it truly gives us joy. The real brilliance to this novel is not necessarily the storyline—while it is good and entertaining, it can also be a bit repetitive and wearing when it comes to Alex worrying over the next routine and how it will affect his journey to the medal podium. No, the real universal theme in creating this story was that it manages to reach across the sports arena and ask each one of us to step back and look at what drives us, and whether it is lasting; is it something that makes us happy; and is it good for us in the long run? When we find those answers, we realize that this simple little tale has actually brought us to a deeper understanding of what is really valuable in our lives, and reminds us to go for it, no holds barred.
You can buy The Next Competitor here: