THE ABSTRACT: “Small Game” drops its characters in impossible situations and watches human nature take over.

Blair Braverman takes us on an epic adventure of survival in Small Game (HarperCollins), a genuine page-turner brimming with suspense.

Five individuals agree to take part in the experience of a lifetime: 6 weeks surviving in the wilderness on a reality TV show in exchange for a prize of $100,000. 

Ashley is the star of the show. With her beautiful blond hair and bright personality, she is meant to be the star. Mara is the forager. Trained in survival techniques, she uses her skills to forage food for the team. Bullfrog is the hunter of the group. His wilderness skills serve the team well. Kyle is the Boy Scout. As the youngest of the group, he tries to fit in with his survival knowledge. Lastly, James is the math teacher. With limited survival skills, he must rely on his team and his social skills to stay in the game.

The rugged surroundings is obviously a major component of the Small Game and Braverman makes sure to convey the idea that it’s neither heaven or hell. 

Speaking from Mara’s perspective, 

The underbrush was thin, which struck her as promising. She had always liked an airy woods. From a distance she thought she recognized bee balm, and broad leaves that might be violets. Farther on, the terain rolled into a series of hills, culminating in a mountain a few miles away. To the northwest, judging by the light. It wasn’t a tropical paradise, but it wasn’t the worst place, either. Workable. Lush in a modest way, and rustling with birds, the sense of springing branches just out of sight, things living in the trees and in the shadows between them. The temperature was probably mid-fifties, and cooler in the shade. No breeze.

When Braverman punches into even closer detail, it becomes clear that Nature plays an important role in Small Game as an unspoken, yet influential, antagonist.

The mossy ground was dry and coarse, almost spongelike. Green leaves poked through it like spears, and white flowers grew in such thick patches that they looked like dustings of snow. But last year’s dead beech leaves still clung to branches, fluttering, translucent. It gave the woods an odd effect, as if it were spring below and autumn above as if the seasons rose from the earth in layers rather than descending from the sky.

Mara, the main character, is a trained survivalist. She was hand-picked to be a contestant due to her aptitude for living off the grid. The producers view her knowledge of plants and trapping techniques as an asset to the team of adventurers. 

On the other hand, Ashley only has one goal: to get famous. She’s clear about who she is and what she wants out of her time in the wilderness. 

Similar to Mara, Bullfrog is a competent survivalist. With hunting and fire-making skills, he’s an integral member of the team. Kyle, a confident, if inexperienced, survivalist learned everything he knows from Boy Scouts. It’s his dream to be honored as a strong survivalist. Lastly, James, a math teacher who joined the show for a sense of adventure, and money. 

Charles Darwin Signature T-shirt – “I think.” Two words that changed science and the world, scribbled tantalizingly in Darwin’s Transmutation Notebooks.

The group sets out to survive for 6 weeks under the watchful eye of a camera crew and production team. Set in the picturesque landscape of the northern wilderness, the group takes on their roles enthusiastically. Ashley keeps them hydrated and positive, Mara forages for food, Kyle builds traps, and Bullfrog fortifies the shelter. James, after enduring a day-long hike to nowhere sanctioned by the producer, feels bamboozled by the show and takes his leave shortly after the adventure begins. The core four continue surviving and performing for the audience, until one day things change. What the cast thinks is a typical reality show, takes a dark twist. 

When the crew disappears, the cast is left stranded in a remote location. Feeling like they have no way out, they begin to lose hope and turn on each other. Yet, they know they need each other to survive. Braverman does an excellent job of developing strong and memorable characters. 

The novel concludes meaningfully and gives closer to the story. After surviving a perilous journey through the woods, the remaining survivors find their way back home and get justice for the crew’s abandonment. 

Small Game provides a deeper perspective on human nature. Braverman places her characters in impossible situations and predicts how different personalities would react to them, encouraging readers to contemplate the way in which they think about the people they encounter in their lives. People may react to things differently, but when they work together they can accomplish the impossible. 

WORDS: Kaitlin Graham.

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