So many “new adult” romances, so little time. I recommend The Ivy Years series by Sarina Bowen and will be looking into her back catalogue. Taking place at a New England college, Harkness, the stories are not light and yet avoid melodrama. These are young people coming into their own and figuring out who they want to be. Each story features at least one character who is an athlete, mostly they are involved in hockey, but there are also soccer and basketball team members, and the football players are the villains. My experience of university may not have matched this jock heavy world, but since the beauty of a large student body is in creating its own neighbourhoods, I don’t mind all the sports, plus it justifies the ripped heroes.
- The Year We Fell Down – BAM! This book got me right in the feels.
- The Year We Hid Away – That’s a lot for two such young people to have going on.
- Blonde Date novella – YAY! Short and sweet and adorable.
- The Understatement of the Year – Surrender. Lying to yourself is exhausting.
- The Shameless Hour – “You don’t get to tell me who I am.”
The Year We Fell Down
Corey was a star athlete until a career ending and life-changing injury transformed her plans. She has arrived as a freshman at the school she was meant to play hockey for, but now she is living in the wheelchair accessible part of the dorm. The upside is that she gets a bigger room and has a great roommate. The up-upside is that Hartley, a dreamy member of the mens’ hockey team, has a badly broken leg and is living in his own accessible room across the hall. The downside is that he has a long distance girlfriend.
There is very little self-pity in Corey and whatever sadness she does feel is entirely deserved. While Hartley is mending from a break, she is never going to walk unaided or have sensation in her leg and feet again. It’s a tough road and she is making the best of it, showing remarkable resilience, but not in an unrealistic way or one that is free of emotional upset. I think many of us have experience with life taking at 180 degree turn and having to change our expectations, so Corey was easy to relate to.
But what about her beloved (Adam) Hartley? He’s a mensch. He’s got issues of his own informing his life decisions, but whatever Corey has got going on, he’s ready to be part of it. They made a sweet couple and a sensible one.
The Year We Fell Down did make me cry, but I can’t judge whether that has to do with the writing or because I have dealt with a potentially debilitating health issue and it affected my reading experience.
The Year We Hid Away
Bridger MacCaulley and Scarlet Crowley have their parents to thank for the ocean liner’s worth of baggage they have between them, but what is university for if not getting out from under one’s childhood? Scarlet has found herself a pariah after her father is accused of genuinely heinous crimes and Bridger has been saddled with more responsibility than someone his age should have to deal with. While his burden is visible, Scarlet’s promises years of pain. She has changed her name and is trying to start a new life.
For a book with so much agita, I found it remarkably melodrama free. There were extreme story elements and responses, but in proportion to the events taking place. Bridger and Scarlet’s responses to their individual pressures are mature to the best of their abilities, but if the characters’ problems had been lesser or limited to just one of them, the story’s construction would have worked better instead of being really good despite this limitation.
Blonde Date novella
Oh, thank GOD! A quick, reasonably light, sweet novella. One of Scarlet’s roommates – Blonde Katie as opposed to Ponytail Katie – needs a date for a sorority event. To complicate matters, their brother frat members, and specifically her douchelord former boyfriend, will be in attendance. Scarlet volunteers Bridger’s neighbour, a young man she knows from high school. Andy Baschnagel is tall and he gangles (H/T Douglas Adams), and he is a genuinely nice and sincere guy. He has been smitten with Katie from the first time he saw her and desperately wants to make a good impression on this date.
The entirety of Blonde Date takes place over one evening and it’s just lovely. Admittedly, I am sucker for a novella and this is the best example of stripping a love story down to its basics I can think of. Katie has recently been shamed by the frat boys and with Andy’s calm kindness starts to figure out who she is and that who she wants to be may be different from what she thought, AND the affable guy gets the girl. HUZZAH!
The Understatement of the Year
In high school, (Mike) Graham and (John) Rikker were embarking on a relationship and were attacked the first time they showed affection in public. Rikker was badly hurt, Graham fled. Several years later, Rikker has transferred to Harkness and joined the hockey team (with Hartley and Bridger up there) after being outed and subsequently mistreated at his original college. It isn’t fun being a publicly gay athlete, but it beats the closet Graham has himself both locked and barricaded inside.
Rikker and Graham fight their way to togetherness, one step forward two steps back, but end up where they need to be. Rikker’s family has failed him, Mike won’t give his a chance to succeed. With patience and forgiveness, the guys become a couple. They were both extremely likeable and had great chemistry.
The Shameless Hour
This is the novel in which Sarina Bowen took the slut shaming undercurrents in the previous stories and directed kleig lights on them. Bella is the men’s hockey team manager and she has worked hard and had a great time off the ice as well. When she meets a dejected Rafe, freshly dumped and drinking champagne alone on his birthday, the two hook up. He would actually like to date, but Bella is the rake in this romance and she is on the move.
A couple of weeks later, early in the morning, Rafe finds Bella stumbling out of a frat house in very shaky condition. I want to stress in case it is a big NOPE for you when choosing a book, that she has not been assaulted sexually; however, she has been traumatized. It was very hard to read and I admit to jumping ahead several chapters and then going back to catch up with the story. The devastating effect of her mistreatment and the public attempt at shaming her is the dramatic momentum of the story. Bella is incredibly strong and surrounded by who love her, but she is not invincible and it takes her time to come back to herself and act on behalf of all women who have been victims of sexual double standards.
But what about the boy? Rafe is in many ways the wallflower in this book and in keeping with that role, he is wonderful and waiting patiently to be noticed. He is a great friend to Bella and ready to support her regardless of the outcome of their relationship, though he has a clear preference.
The power of The Shameless Hour’s reversal is that, of course, Bella has acted like legions of romance novel heroes, but unlike the ones who tomcat their way through stories, our culture likes to tell her that being a good woman requires a different standard of conduct. Bella has made her peace with this B.S., but that doesn’t mean it is easy for her to live on her own terms.
Links to my other reviews can be found on my complete reading list of books sorted by author or Author Commentary & The Tallies Shameful.