Playing With Matches is a wonderful first novel by Brian Katcher. It is the story of a high school Junior in Missouri, named Leon, whose life is changed when he meets a girl whose face was disfigured in a fire. The girl is named Melody and he had paid no attention to her until by chance her locker ends up right next to his.
Brian Katcher captures the real spirit of high school. He is a clever and humorous writer, without resorting to the use of stereotype characters. Leon and Melody had been in school together since Eighth Grade, but the reason they had never interacted before was that,
“Like at any school, some people at Montogomery Zummer were universally shunned. That girl in the wheelchair. The guy with leukemia who was obviously gong to get his own page in the yearbook before graduation. The retarded kids from the resource room. And Melody.”
Once Leon actually gets to know Melody he finds that they love the same movies, T.V. shows and jokes. She would be the perfect girlfriend. Except of course for her burned face.
Leon wants to love Melody, but like Bonnie Raitt says, ‘You can’t make your heart feel something it won’t”.
Playing With Matches explores some serious questions without being preachy. It retains its humor throughout. Brian Katcher never forgets that high school boys are essentially shallow creatures obsessed with sex. Even Leon notes that “Now, when a guy says a girl has a nice smile, he usually means ‘You have amazing breasts.'”