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Heidi Hart

By day, I'm a domestic violence prosecutor. By night, I read romance to restore my faith in love, relationships, and humanity in general. 

NA and M/M are both subgenres I tend to pass on. This book is the very rare exception.

The Understatement of the Year - Sarina Bowen

I don't generally read New Adult, and what I've read, I rarely like. I almost never read M/M: in fact, as a bisexual woman in a long-term lesbian relationship, I usually find the whole M/M subgenre of erotic books about gay men written by and for straight women to be baffling at best and uncomfortably exploitative at worst. I never, ever, ever would have picked this up if I hadn't already read and enjoyed the first two books (not M/M) in the Ivy Years series. Yet having read the first two books, I had to finish the series, and I'm really glad I read Understatement of the Year.


John Rikker and Michael Graham grew up together in a conservative part of the midwest, attending a Christian middle-and-high-school that taught Fire and Brimstone alongside English and Algebra I. Despite the disapproval of their teachers and families, Rikker and Graham explored their budding attraction through grope sessions on Graham's basement couch in between video games. When they were fifteen, though, they got caught kissing in Rikker's car and were chased by homophobes. Graham ran and hid, but Rikker tripped and got badly beaten. Rikker recovered and, though he was disowned by his Jesus-freak parents, he got sent to live with his grandmother in Vermont where he could be out and proud and reasonably well-adjusted. Meanwhile, Graham was scared so deeply into the closet he's never again dared to act on his gay attractions, and he's been plagued by guilt and self-loathing ever since.


When Rikker's Catholic college cuts him from the team for being gay, in violation of NCAA rules, he transfers to Harkness College and gets a spot on their Division I hockey team... which happens to be Graham's team. Because of this unusual transfer and the fact that he's the first openly-gay Division I athlete, Rikker gets a lot of unwanted media attention. Rikker's presence on the team, and especially the media circus that follows him, ratchet up Graham's torment to an unsustainable level. Graham's always had to be a little bit drunk in order to get it on with girls, but now he finds he has to be very, very, very drunk just to get through the day, and his alcoholism starts to take a toll on his game both on and off the ice.


Graham's angst sets the emotional tone for this book, and that level of angst may not be to everyone's taste. I would not have had any patience with it if not for the backstory of Rikker's assault and their Christian upbringing to provide a plausible explanation (if not excuse) for Graham's sometimes-terrible behavior toward Rikker. Graham runs hot and cold on Rikker for most of the book, and as understandable as his fear is, it's still infuriating, both to the reader and to Rikker.


The ultimate conclusion to all this angst, in what I'm coming to discover may be Sarina Bowen's style, involves a last-minute, out-of-the-blue plot twist that ends up wrapping the thorniest plot thickets up in a too-tidy-for-my-tastes little bow.

Rikker's grandmother has a stroke, and when Rikker gets word of it while the team is in the locker room, Graham's concern for his lover overshadows all thought and self-preservation of his secret, and Graham behaves like lover instead of a hockey player. In the pages that follow, Bowen opens the door to a rapprochement between Rikker and his estranged parents, and Graham decides he doesn't care that much about Rikker's publicity because he doesn't actually want to be a hockey player after all.

(show spoiler)

I don't believe that a soul as tortured as Graham would get over his issues quite so quickly and easily, but all in all this was a satisfying read.