September 29, 2014

The Understatement of the Year by Sarina Bowen

The Understatement of the Year by Sarina Bowen
Release Date: September 29, 2014
Publisher: Self-Published
Pages: 281
Series: The Ivy Years
Review Source: eARC from author for review

Synopsis: (from Goodreads)

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.
My Thoughts:
When it comes to Sarina Bowen’s novels I’m automatically swept up in the characters and their situations. I always feel so attached to her characters, wanting to know them and their stories. The Understatement of the Year was no exception. It's Sarina’s most hockey focused book yet in her Ivy Years series, with the novel taking place during hockey season and with both of the heroes being part of the team.

I definitely felt a deep ache when it came to Graham’s character. He is so deeply in the closet and so completely terrified of being found out, so Rikker's reappearance in his life is troubling. I was definitely angry at him for denying Rikker, but he’s not someone you can condemn, considering you can really experience his complete panic and fear, knowing how an incident when he and Rikker were younger completely shaped his future. Rikker, on the other hand, has become this model gay guy without wanting to be. He's out (though not by his choice, hence why he's so understanding of Graham), he's had boyfriends, and he's the first out Division 1 hockey player.

As usual, Sarina Bowen did a fantastic job with secondary characters. I loved Bella, who we will be seeing in her own book in the future. Bella first appears as this slutty hanger-on stereotype, but she's so much more than that. I adore books that subvert tropes and show that a person can appear one way and be another or that they can be one way or do one thing, but also be someone else. Another favourite character is Rikker’s grandmother, the person who became his rock when his parents basically disowned him. She is a firecracker and their relationship was adorable.

One thing I think that this author always succeeds at is epic chemistry and there was definitely that between Graham and Rikker. The wanting, the anticipation, the massive history between them -- all of it is so close to boiling over for so long, and it’s delicious to experience. What I really liked about this story is that there wasn’t any perfect answer to everything. It wasn’t just like a switch flipped and suddenly Graham would be cool wearing a rainbow flag. It’s a gradual process for them to be together, and a gradual process for Graham to come to terms with who he is. Even in the end it’s a work in progress, but it’s a beautiful one.

The Understatement of the Year is a story of self acceptance and learning to love yourself. It’s a painful journey for Graham, and even an awkward one for Rikker at times, when he has to deal with his teammates’ reactions to his sexuality. There were various reactions to Rikker being an openly gay hockey player, and they felt realistic to me. The majority of people didn’t care or at least didn’t make a fuss about it, but there were a few very supportive people and a few who were the vocal minority, being complete assholes about it. That range of reactions felt true, and I loved how Rikker himself was aware of it, grading those around him on his own personal Rikker Scale based on how cool or not cool people were.

This is a heart wrenching book, a sexy book, a romantic book, and, yes, a funny book too. I loved the characters and I thought the story was so well told, which is no surprise. I've come to expect amazing romantic fiction from Sarina Bowen, and she never disappoints.

The Cover:
Generally like it.


Purchase Links:
Kobo | | | Barnes & Noble

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