When I finished reading The Year We Hid Away I commented on Goodreads that the struggles these characters face should make this one unreadable, but Bowen has a knack for writing believable characters in unbelievable circumstances. I was completely absorbed in the world of Bridger and Scarlet
Normally the topics at hand in The Year We Hid Away would be found in darker, grittier fiction – not the Romance Novel department. Bridger, who we met in The Year We Fell Down, is in his junior year of college studying for Bachelors and Masters Degrees simultaneously. He’s left behind his partying and hockey playing ways from the year before because as he predicted, his bigger life problems have crashed in on his college experience. His mother is a drug addict and his sister Lucy is no longer safe in her home. In an attempt to keep Lucy out of the foster system, Bridger moves Lucy into his dorm room and proceeds to be her primary care giver. This means his life just got incredibly complicated, and very full.
Meanwhile, when we meet Scarlet, new freshman at Harkness College, she has just changed her name in order to outrun a world that is crashing down on her. The previous year her father – a famous former professional hockey player and now college coach – has been accused of molesting young players. Scarlet’s senior year is spent hiding out in her bedroom avoiding a town that now views her entire family as pariahs and the media who are constantly parked on her lawn. By becoming Scarlet, which includes a completely new backstory about who she is and where she came from, she hopes to begin a new life away from the tragedy that is her father’s possible actions and the nightmare that is the pending court case. However her fears and insecurities prevent her from making new friendships or really trusting anyone.
Even with all of this drama, Bowen gives these two have a traditional college meet cute. They share two classes on Tuesday and Thursday mornings (Statistics which Bridger excels in, and Music, which is Scarlet’s domain). Catching glimpses of each other in class, Bridger orchestrates it so that Scarlet sits with him at lunch. From that point the two forms a tentative friendship (which will eventually bloom into a relationship) based on the understanding that some things must always be held back and no questions asked. But Bridger isn’t able to keep Lucy completely hidden from Scarlet and when things go from bad to worse, it’s time for Bridger and Scarlet to decide if they are really in this together, or not.
Bowen does a great job at keeping the stakes real for her characters, whether it’s Corey’s injury in The Year We Fell Down or the life circumstances for Bridger and Scarlet in this work. She also excels at keeping her characters from being ridiculous caricatures of people. Both Bridger and Scarlet have what would be considered rational reactions to the problems they are dealt. In keeping with the tone of the seriousness of the issues the characters face Bowen also has her characters take their time falling for each other. Sure, they have the hots for one another, but this relationship is built on time spent getting to know each other, and then choosing the other person.
There were weaknesses in the book, but they make sense with the overall story arc. Of course we aren’t going to see a lot of other characters in Harkness if Scarlet is reluctant to make friends/trust people and Bridger is literally hiding another person for fear of being kicked out of housing. But, that meant we lost the dynamic of the college itself that Bowen had built into the first book of the series. I hope it comes back in later works. Also, this book may be much bleaker than the average romance reader is looking for, and that should be considered when making the choice to read it. Things do work out (not actually a spoiler, this is a romance novel after all), but it’s not always easy going getting there.
I am very pleased with this series, and have already read Blonde Date the companion novella to this one, and have The Understatement of the Year ready to go.
This book was read and reviewed as part of the charitable Cannonball Read.