The Understatement of the Year (CBR7 #86)

I have been continuing with The Ivy Years books by Sarina Bowen and they continue to be delightful. Delightful feels like such a weird word to use about a series that focuses on such relatively heavy topics and subjects. As I’ve discussed previously The Year We Hid Away and The Year We Fell Down each tackle heavy topics with a deft hand, and The Understatement of the Year, the third full novel in the series, does the same, this time venturing into the dynamics of being an out athlete, or not.

The Understatement of the Year is the story of Mike Graham and John Rikker. Graham and Rikker had been best friends in middle school, and then their friendship grew into a sexual one. During their freshman year of high school the pair were attacked the first time they slipped and showed affection in public. Graham escaped the brutality that day, Rikker did not. This story picks up five years later as Rikker and Graham see each other for the first time since the incident when Rikker walks into the locker room of Harkness College’s hockey team.

Bowen uses her three hundred pages to examine the costs of being out, or being closeted in college and specifically on a sports team. Graham has spent the past five years hiding this part of who he is – getting himself just drunk enough to hook up with women (Hi Bella! Looking forward to finishing your book soon!) and putting up his shields and not betraying his true feelings to anyone, including his family. Rikker has spent the intervening years living with his grandmother in Vermont and been out. He put himself back in the closet at his first university, but was outed and forced off his hockey team. Given the illegality of that, he was granted a transfer to Harkness. But that also means that in order to explain this unprecedented transfer, he’s now one of the first out hockey players at the college level. Bowen represents the variety of responses people have to Rikker, and his various ways of coping.

But the crux of the novel is whether or not Graham and Rikker can learn to be friends again, and if they can be together. As I have sometimes complained about in other romance novels, Graham is very one note. Admittedly, his note is huge, and real, and deserved of attention. But even in Bowen’s skilled hands I wanted to shake some hope into the kid. Thankfully for him, Rikker was way more patient than I am. What I did really like is that this book, along with Blonde Date, and The Year We Hid Away gave a much fuller look at the same year from a variety of angles. I’ve actually gone back and moved my rating of The Year We Hid Away up a star. That’s one of the reasons I really enjoy series books, the world expands naturally.

This book was read and reviewed as part of the charitable Cannonball Read.


The Year We Fell Down (CBR7 #67)

I rely wholeheartedly on the advice of fellow Romance readers as I continue to broaden my reading horizons. There is simply too much good stuff available to waste time with the bad stuff. Cannonball Read has been hit with a couple of reviews for Sarina Bowen’s The Ivy Years series, a Contemporary/New Adult romance series set at a prestigious university in Connecticut. The reviews have been nearly unanimously positive. I of course downloaded the first one to my Nook and when trapped without my copy of Persepolis I started reading this on my phone. It is a testament to how good it was that I continued to read it on my phone (which I don’t like to do, but emergencies happen) until I finished it today.

While The Year We Fell Down fits itself in with almost all good genre romance novels out there right now by following the pacing and tropes we’re expecting, it also dunks us into a portion of the world we might not be expecting and is unflinchingly honest about it, or as much as it can be in 200 short pages. You see, our protagonists have their meet cute in the accessible dorm on their college campus. Corey Callahan suffered a spinal cord injury which has left her unable to walk unaided or have sensation in her legs and Adam Hartley broke his leg in two places and will spend the next several months healing. Both were meant to be playing for their school’s hockey team, neither will do so.

Each character also brings other baggage to the table, and in perhaps my favorite saying these characters share, they get to shoveling the shit. They are a believable pair, dealing with mostly believable issues in a completely believable way. This is good storytelling. There are a few dings against the book, focused heavily on the fact that for the life of me I often couldn’t remember the first names of our two main characters (they refer to each other almost exclusively by last name, which itself doesn’t bother me).  I’m excited to see how the stories continue and am excited that Hartley’s best friend Bridger is the protagonist in the next in the series.  While the dating stuff was cute, I really fell for these characters when they all went to Hartley’s mom’s house for Thanksgiving and I’m excited to dig more deeply into the character of Bridger that we were given a glimpse of. I’ll be ordering the rest of the series immediately, and suggest you probably just buy the whole set like Mrs. Julien suggests.

This book was read and reviewed as part of the charitable Cannonball Read.