Series: The Ivy Years #3
Published by Self-Published on 29th September 2014
Genres: Contemporary, Issues, New Adult, Romance
Buy on Amazon US • Buy on Amazon UK
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.
Reviewed by Kay
*I received an eARC from the author is exchange for an honest review*
Sarina Bowen’s Ivy Years series is fast becoming one of my all time favourites. I have loved the previous two novels and the one novella she has written in this fresh, realistic NA series. When we were treated to a sneak preview of The Understatement of the Year at the end of the novella Blonde Date, it hooked me instantly and I couldn’t wait to read more of Rikker’s and Graham’s story. Let me tell you now, the full novel does not disappoint on any level.
This fourth instalment in the series centres around Michael Graham, the tough guy athlete who loves nothing more than the battle on the ice, drinking with his buddies and hooking up with a hot girl at the end of the night – or does he? You see Graham is lying. He’s lying to his team mates, he’s lying to his best friend Bella, but most importantly, he’s lying to himself. Five years previously his true self and the truth about his sexuality had been buried and since then, the real Michael Graham has been hiding, mostly from himself. However, all his carefully shielded feelings are about to resurface again with the reappearance of his one time best friend and first love, John Rikker.
Since last seeing Graham, Rikker has lived his life very differently to his old friend. After the vicious attack that led to their separation, he has been living with his fabulous grandmother, and enjoying a more open and accepting way of life. However Rikker, like Graham, is an ice hockey player, and when he is cruelly “outed” to his coach and team mates, things take a sizeable shift. Kicked off the team just for being gay, he has now found his way to Harkness College and with that, back into the life of the guy that still draws him in like no other but who, riddled with fear and guilt of abandoning him all those years ago, looks like he wants nothing to do with him at all.
This was the first M/M NA romance I have read, and I thought it was beautifully written. For me, I just love romance and the sexuality of the characters in that romance don’t really come into it. If the story is good, the emotion genuine and the connection sexy and honest, I’m in. The Understatement Of The Year gave me all that and more. I’ve said it before in my other reviews of this series, but I think the strength of Bowen’s writing is in its honesty. The characters feel real, the situations they find themselves in and the way they handle them, has an absolutely truthful ring to it. This is highlighted beautifully by Graham’s character. I know people who have struggled with coming out and revealing to friends and family that they are gay. I know that they have suffered almost crippling anxiety with their desperate attempt to keep their secret hidden, fearing that revealing their true feelings would bring their world crashing down around them
“His computer’s browser history is deleted every time he steps away from the machine. His clothes are nondescript. His face is carefully blank. Honestly, it’s exhausting.”
I understood Graham’s absolute fear of his secret sexuality being revealed. When you have kept that hidden for so long, the thought of anyone finding out is blown out of all proportion in your mind. It can be hard for anyone, in any walk of life, but the macho sports world, in general, seems to be even further behind the times and for an athlete, facing up to the thought of coming out to your team mates must seem impossible. Even Rikker’s more confident, open character reflected this. He had been happily living his life, out to his Grandma and his close friends, but when cruelly outed to his hockey team mates, he still had to face prejudice and exclusion. Again, this is where Sarina Bowen’s writing shines for me. She doesn’t paint everything as being just instantly fine. We don’t have an unrealistic Hollywood storyline of a bad 80’s sports movie where our gay character scores the winning point in the last seconds of the game, thus leading to acceptance, with hugs, high fives and “I love you man!” being shared by all his now enlightened team mates. Some people are ignorant arseholes and they will always just be that way, and the story reflects this. Maybe they don’t have the upbringing, the heart or the intelligence to embrace the fact that we are all different and need to live our lives accordingly. But the great thing is, not everyone is like that. Maybe not quickly enough, but times are changing and hopefully, things do get better. When you take a chance and open up, people may surprise you.
“Every time you move a person into the truth column, breathing gets a little easier, right?”
I adored the two lead characters in this book but there are also some great supporting characters, both new to us and old familiar friends. I loved seeing Hartley, Corey and Bridger again. Hartley in particular was wonderful and everything you would want in a team captain. I loved Rikker’s Grandma and Graham’s mum, but Bella was one of the real stand out new characters for me, so I’m delighted to hear the next book in the series will be hers.
In summary, I would say The Understatement Of The Year is a beautiful, well written, honest, sexy love story of two gorgeous guys that together, finally find the courage to be who they want to be in life. I enjoyed it immensely, just as I have with all of the books in this wonderful series. Sarina Bowen again does a fantastic job with this story and I cannot wait to read the next instalment in this 5 star series.