Troy Barrett has been freshly traded to Ottawa after calling out Dallas Kent during a team practice. He wants to be a better person, and the weird, scrappy energy of the struggling Ottawa team seems like the place to…well. It seems like the only place that will have Troy right now.
Fortunately the Ottawa team includes Ilya Rozanov and Wyatt Hayes, and also includes an adorable social media manager, Harris Drover. Harris is the opposite of Troy in every way: friendly, cheerful, chatty, and goofy with a booming voice, a startlingly loud laugh, and Pride pins all over his denim jacket. Definitely not the sort of person Troy would normally associate with, and yet…
Thank you very much to Harlequin-Carina Press for providing me with a review copy of this novel in exchange for an honest review.
Role Model is out 10/8/21
He didn’t know what had compelled him to come here, except the best he’d felt in ages had been in Harris’s office, watching him eat cake pops.
I only discovered the Game Changers series this year in February when I binge read the first four books in four days, but I’m not exaggerating when I say this has now become one of my favourite romance series ever. And trust me when I say no one is no more surprised than me that sports romance books have become so important to me, when I don’t even know the difference between baseball and cricket.
Role Model follows Troy Barrett, one of the antagonists of Tough Guy, after he calls out his former best friend and team mate Dallas Kent, who has been accused by multiple anonymous women of sexual assault and rape. Trying to avoid a scandal, Troy’s old team trades him off to the substandard Ottawa team, as they prefer to protect Kent rather than acknowledge the horrible accusations. Troy moves to Ottawa, depressed and anxious, having lost his best friend, his team mates, and his secret boyfriend all in one hit. There, he meets Harris, the social media manager for Ottawa, and tries not to show how hard he’s crushing on the other man who is determined to bring Troy out of his shell.
One of my favourite romance tropes is grumpy/sunshine, where one love interest is a sweetheart and the other has never smiled in their entire life, and Role Model is this trope incarnate. Troy is deeply closeted and terrified of coming out as gay, as he’s felt intense pressure from his toxic father and former team, Toronto, for years. He knows that if he comes out, he’ll lose everything. To hide this part of himself, he hides behind the mask of a homophobic asshole: he makes horrible jokes at the expense of others and befriends the biggest douchebags because he finds it safer to be in the inner circle rather than on the outside. But all the changes the second he hears that his best friend might be a sexual assaulter and he becomes determined to change himself.
Harris is the complete opposite of Troy: he’s a literal ball of sunshine. He’s an apple farmer as well as a social media manager and he’s publicly out to the Ottawa team, who all love and support him. Harris has also had a major crush on Troy for years, and when he meets Troy for the first time, he’s convinced that nothing could ever come of his crush. But still he tries to befriend Troy as he can’t stand seeing how miserable and sad Troy is. And so over eggnog lattes, queer pins, apple cider, and the cutest little puppy, Troy’s frosty exterior slowly starts to crack and he lets Harris in.
I can’t get over how adorable the romance between Troy and Harris is. They just suit each other so well! While other romances from the previous books revolve a lot around sex and passion, Troy and Harris’s relationship develops slowly and sweetly. That’s not to say there’s no chemistry between the two, because there definitely is, only that the book focuses on their friendship as well, with Harris encouraging and helping Troy to leave behind the poisonous way of thinking his father and former team forced upon him.
It would be remiss of me not to mention my favourite part of the novel, which is Ilya Rozanov! Ilya is one of the main characters from the second book in the series, Heated Rivalry, and is a fan favourite. I’ve got a feeling he’s everyone’s favourite character because he’s just so much fun. He’s a bit of a shit-stirrer, loves annoying people, and becomes one of Troy’s closest confidantes. At the end of Heated Rivalry, Ilya requests to transfer to Ottawa, a pretty average team, in order to be closer to Shane Hollander, his boyfriend, although no one in the hockey world knows this. And in Role Model, we find that Ilya is now the Ottawa captain and under his guidance, and Troy’s amazing skills, Ottawa starts winning almost every game. I have a feeling that in The Long Game, the last book in the series coming out next year which will be about Ilya and Shane again, will have Ottawa winning the Stanley Cup with Ilya as their captain.
Role Model is an amazing addition to the Game Changers series. A month after reading it, I’m still thinking about this book and can see myself rereading it again and again. If you’re a fan of this series, you’re going to love this book. If you’ve been looking for a reason to pick up the series, then consider my review the nudge you need! And just to make sure I get my point across, this book has Ilya Rozanov wearing an ugly Christmas sweater and a Santa hat, while hugging a puppy. You’re welcome.