Since the HarperCollins employee union and HarperCollins Publisher have reached a tentative agreement (yay!🎉), I can finally post this review that I have had in my drafts for forever.
A survival reality show gone wrong that leaves a group of strangers stranded in the northern wilds.
Four strangers and six weeks: this is all that separates Mara from one life-changing payday. She was surprised when reality TV producers came knocking at Primal Instinct—the survival school where she teaches rich clients not to die during a night outdoors—and even more shocked to be cast in their new show, Civilization. Now she just has to live off the land with her fellow survivors for long enough to get the prize money.
Whisked by helicopter to an undisclosed location, Mara meets her teammates: The grizzled outdoorsman. The Eagle Scout. The white-collar professional. And Ashley, the beautiful but inexperienced one who just wants to be famous. Mara’s unusual, rugged childhood has prepared her for the discomforts and hard work ahead. But trusting her fellow survivors? Not part of Mara’s skill set.
When the cast wakes one morning to find something has gone horribly wrong, fear ripples through the group. Are the producers giving them an extra challenge? Or are they wrapped up in something more dangerous? Soon Mara and the others face terrifying decisions as “survival” becomes more than a game.
A provocative exploration of the comforts, rituals, and connections we depend upon, Small Game is a gripping page-turner and a poignant story about finding the courage to build a new life from the ground up.
Do you ever go into a book with a solid idea of what to expect only to find nothing of the sort? For me, Small Game was the epitome of starting a book with expectations and none of them being met.
Small Game is about a group of five strangers who join a reality television show where they are left at an unknown location with only one tool each. While I thought that this book would be a gripping cross between the television shows Survivor, Naked and Afraid, and Stranded, I found instead a story about survival, humanity, and our basic need for human connection.
I had seen Small Game billed as a thriller and that is what I went in anticipating. However, I would not call this book a thriller at all. I hesitate to call it suspenseful, because I think most of the suspense was created by my expectations.
Despite wanting this book to be more than it was, I try not to hold my preconceived notions against it when I write a review. I found Small Game to be very readable. However, I think the story suffered a bit from its uneven pacing. For the first half, I kept waiting for the other shoe to drop or events that felt like major plot points. Eventually, I decided to just enjoy the vivid writing and try to assume there was no mystery. In the end, I was frustrated and disappointed with the lack of a resolution. Essentially, this book did not have an ending. There was no closure or real answer to questions about major plot points.
It was clear that Braverman used her experience as a reality television show contestant to craft this story. I can only assume that it was an accurate depiction of what happens behind the scenes, since I do not have firsthand knowledge. I particularly loved the survival details and that this book felt like an ode to the beauty and harshness of nature.
Other than the absence of an ending, Small Games fell short in terms of emotional depth and character development. I had a difficult time telling secondary characters apart due to their lack of development. But what really left me more wanting was the absolute lack of emotion from the main character. Being told her from point of view, you would think that the readers would be privy to her feelings; however, she seemed to have none. In that way, Small Game felt more like the experience one gets when viewing a tv show, rather than reading a first-person narrative.
Lastly, this novel includes a sapphic love story that felt completely unnecessary. (I have no problem with these types of storylines in general.) It felt rather incongruous with the rest of the book. In addition, it was very one-sided and consequently made me feel uncomfortable.
Overall, I enjoyed Small Game, but I think my expectations kept me from really loving it for what it was. I definitely recommend it if you do not mind unanswered questions or ambiguous endings and go in knowing that it is not a thriller.
November 1, 2022