So [digression alert: skip the next few paragraphs if all you want to know is what I thought of Sarina Bowen‘s latest] – I read this discussion board thread recently around the New Adult sub-genre, and someone’s very definite declaration that NA was contemporary romance that was crammed full of angst, with immature protagonists who basically mess each other up throughout the entire book (paraphrasing quite a bit, but that was the general gist) touched a nerve somewhat.
Because I think there is so much more to NA than that one single plot line – yes, some NA books use that plot, but not all do. My personal view is that NA stories are about that stage in life when you’ve the trappings of adulthood and living independently, but you’re still finding your feet and trying to figure out who you are and how you want to live your life. Yes, it’s messy and you make mistakes, but not because you want to hurt other people. The protagonists don’t necessarily need to have a broken family background or tragic events in their past; it doesn’t have to be high-octane drama all the time. I feel that setting those expectations around NA stories narrows and constricts the sub-genre unnecessarily, when there are so many story possibilities out there.
But then – in today’s publishing world, I guess sub-genres are really defined by readers? If all the super-angsty romances that are being published are being tagged as NA by those buying the books, then maybe that is NA (which, to be fair, is not even a subgenre that existed a few years ago). So who am I to throw all my toys out of the pram and scream “But that’s not what I consider New Adult!”?
[Yes, the review starts here]
I first came across Sarina Bowen’s books when Diana Peterfreund hosted a cover reveal of her first Ivy Years book earlier this year (I’d digress into “what do cover reveals achieve”, but I think I’ve reached my quota for this post), and started stalking her new releases. I received a copy of her latest book, THE UNDERSTATEMENT OF THE YEAR, when I hosted its cover reveal a month or so back and as I’ve already talked about why I really like her books there, we’ll jump straight into this book, shall we?
What happened in high school stayed in high school. Until now.
Five years ago, Michael Graham betrayed the only person who ever really knew him. Since then, he’s made an art of hiding his sexuality from everyone. Including himself.
So it’s a shock when his past strolls right into the Harkness College locker room, sporting a bag of hockey gear and the same slow smile that had always rendered Graham defenseless. For Graham, there is only one possible reaction: total, debilitating panic. With one loose word, the team’s new left wing could destroy Graham’s life as he knows it.
John Rikker is stuck being the new guy. Again. And it’s worse than usual, because the media has latched onto the story of the only “out” player in Division One hockey. As the satellite trucks line the sidewalk outside the rink, his new teammates are not amused.
And one player in particular looks sick every time he enters the room.
Rikker didn’t exactly expect a warm welcome from Graham. But the guy won’t even meet his eyes. From the looks of it, his former… best friend / boyfriend / whatever isn’t doing so well. He drinks too much and can’t focus during practice.
Either the two loneliest guys on the team will self destruct from all the new pressures in their lives, or they can navigate the pain to find a way back to one another. To say that it won’t be easy is the Understatement of the Year.
Warning: unlike the other books in this series, this heartbreaking love story is about two guys. Contains sexual situations, dance music, snarky t-shirts and a poker-playing grandmother.
As with the previous Ivy Years books, Graham and Rikker’s story takes place in her
Yale Harkness College setting. I have a stupidly soft spot for residential college settings – it reminds me of my own university days, when you pretty much live on top of one another and hang out in the same places, so we were off to a good start. Characters from previous books make cameos, though this works well as a standalone. Plus this installment had lots of ice hockey as a bonus. I cheerfully confess that I know next to nothing about ice hockey (and I mean that – to me, ice hockey = hockey played on ice, and that’s it), but I liked the sports backdrop of this book; the technical details felt real, the rough-and-tumble of the games made me wince, and the passion the players had for the sport brought it alive.
And as for the romance? It’s an M/M romance – I love how the previous romances in this series were straight M/F relationships, and then a gay romance is centre-stage in the third book. Possibly not the most commercial of decisions, but possibly indicative of where mainstream romance is heading? You get both Graham and Rikker’s alternating POVs in this book, so it’s easy to root for both of them, even when you wanted to smack one or the other on their heads at times. What got to me was the level of foreboding that ratcheted up throughout the book as Graham and Rikker figure out what they mean to each other… Graham’s obviously in the closet, and you know that it would all implode eventually – and you’re loving the characters so much, and you just want it OVER AND DONE WITH ALREADY. Without giving anything away, everything works out in the end (it’s a romance!) – and very satisfyingly, but ack, I spent a lot of the book on tenterhooks (and not in a good way).
I have to loop back to the definition of NA that annoyed me in the first instance. I have to admit that THE UNDERSTATEMENT OF THE YEAR is totally angst-y, that the book starts with events in both Graham and Rikker’s pasts that they would rather forget, and that Graham really acts like an idiot at times. But it was also lots of fun, there is both some growing up and falling in love happening, and I closed the book feeling satisfied.
So if this is NA, more please?
Review based on an ARC courtesy of the author.