I wasn't surprised that I found that this book had neither ratings nor reviews; I found it in a corner of my local library and its cover and blurb drew me in. The book is 179 pages in length so it took me only a day of occasional reading to finish it. I would have steamed through it in one sitting but despite its minimal length, I found it hard to get through purely because of the way it was written. I know nothing about the author but I can't help but feeling she has little knowledge and insight with the topic at hand.
Playtime follows the adolescence of Leon Casona from his move to Croydon, London at the age of 14 and details his friendship with Danny Rockson, an enthusiastic and friendly boy who lives nearby. Having escaped from an abusive father, Leon suffers from a lack of self-confidence but is soon the life of the party and near enough everybody thinks well of him. When his mother turns her back on him and his younger sister Natalie, he must take matters into his own hands and run the house on a low-paying job while providing safety and comfort for Natalie. Events that happen during and hereafter are a testimony to his internal struggles and his ability to deal with them. After having exposed his actions, why he is nicknamed the 'Croydon Creep' by the newspapers and a bitterly cathartic statement from Danny Rockson himself, the book ends on a sombre note.
The problem I have with this book is its nature. It is epistolary and is written as a police interview manuscript from the first person point of view with statements from those surrounding Leon and snippets from Leon's diaries and letters and the blog of one particular young girl. Because it is reflective, there is no action of such and you suffer through pages of Leon being dramatic and emo - though, okay, it IS reasonable - before truths are uncovered. Leon himself always comments on the events at hand but you might as well not read his parts of the book once you get past the first twenty or so pages because you know he's going to spew the same crap about his dad and his pain and wanting to die. Other commenters are a breath of fresh air but after listening to every single female voice you understand that Leon Casona is a Gary Stu.
As someone who has felt the way Leon has in the past, I thought I would find this book oddly calling. I couldn't have been further from the truth. He literally doesn't change his attitude from the age of 14 up to the age of 19, when he is detained by the police. It starts off as him describing how he wants to die, how he hates his dad, how he hates his mother and everybody but Natalie; and that's understandable because he's an angsty teen - but as the book goes on you realise he's a selfish little prick. He murders two men and rapes a 12-year old girl literally because 'I was put through torture so why do they get off easily'. It becomes 179 pages of 'woe is fucking me'. It's evident to see that he has strength in abundance but he will just not move on. Even after he reluctantly checks himself in for counselling, he continues down the same path and gets himself into such a state that the only option left for him is to turn himself into the police to punish himself for his sins. It's here where the book's dialogue starts but what baffles me is how he's so composed with his language and some things he says are just plain cringeworthy (i.e. "My scars are my tux for all occasions, aren't you glad I dressed smart for you?") We're also told quite regularly that Leon is beautiful: One of the characters says that if a girl could have Leon it showed she could have anybody. We're also told that he's quite intelligent despite the fact he hardly ever attended school. Knowing how to write using every word in the thesaurus =/= being intelligent. So we have the picture of a boy who - as one character says - has to have a more traumatic and sad life than everyone else and is also drop dead gorgeous and intelligent to boot. I'm not sure if we're supposed to feel sorry for or hate this character; but my verdict is that he's an annoying little prick.
The second character and only other important character in my opinion was Danny Rockson, Leon's 'saviour' and best friend. If he's not stopping Leon from killing himself, he's watching Leon kill an innocent person and then allowing him to babysit his brothers and sisters. I think Danny was written as a character who you're supposed to feel sorry for - and you do but you can't help if you're anybody with any inkling of common sense but think that this boy is an idiot and he has a big part to play in Leon's rape of his 12-year old sister Ashley. Danny watches as Leon slices the throat of a man; when Leon starts pretending it never happened to DANNY HIMSELF and another witness, you would realise that he's not only a murderer but completely psychopathic. Did I mention that Leon framed the murder to look like a suicide - going to extent of washing the blade, stabbing the dead man's wrists and planting the knife in his hands before getting rid of his own shirt? This is not somebody you would ever talk to ever again, let alone let babysit your kid brothers and sisters and NOT RAISE A SINGLE CONCERN ABOUT IT. When we finally read Danny's voice near the tail end of the book, we see that he's distraught. It's been a long time coming and perhaps he can close the book on a high note: After all, Leon Casona will be behind bars for life and his family, though very shaken up, can heal. But no - Danny doesn't talk about how his sister must have felt when she was being conditioned, groomed, raped, blackmailed and obsessed over by his best friend; instead he talks about himself and how he felt about it. Now, it's not uncommon for this to happen but when you go on to literally say that you are angrier at yourself than you are at the person who did this to your family you realise that Danny Rockson is another example of a badly written character.
There are other characters here and there including Leon's sister, his ex-girlfriend, his victim and his neighbours, employer and co-workers but their voices are minimal. Leon's dialogue is so heavy and self-involved that his speech is the most important. He intersperses his story with frequent reference to his 'fucked up life' and his father and you could literally write a My Chemical Romance album with the amount of depression he trawls into his diary. The story is intriguing and it did leave me wanting to know exactly what had happened but the writing of Leon was so atypical that I found it hard to bear most of the time. Obviously, since the book was written by a girl aged 16 you do expect this style once you understand that she has a passion for English and psychology. Knowing that she has one other book published - Project Kate - I hope that she's improved in both style and prose.
So, overall I give Playtime two stars; it was okay. Not tortuous or as bad as Cassandra Clare's City of Bones but enough angst carved into each page with suicidal teenage blood that you want to hang yourself.