After finishing The Year We Hid Away, and with the help of Emmalita’s loan, I immediately started reading the third book in Sarina Bowen’s Ivy League Series: The Understatement of the Year (2014). Taking place at the same elite, Yale-like, hockey-centric college, this one differs primarily because the romance is about two young men rather than the more ubiquitous, romantic heterosexual couples.
Michael Graham and John Rikker grew up together, and they were close friends. As puberty hit and their sexual awareness grew, they began some furtive exploration in Graham’s basement. Both were way too young and repressed to understand or even acknowledge what they were doing and what it meant. But then Graham abandons Rikker after a traumatic incident in their lives, and they are split apart.
Years later, both of the guys are now in college. Graham has never forgotten Rikker, and when Rikker shows up one day in his hockey locker room after transferring schools, he can barely handle the tension. The feelings Graham has regarding Rikker are a confused morass of guilt, shame, denial, desire, and love, and he is a mess. It doesn’t help that Graham is so far into the closet that he can’t even admit to himself that he’s gay while Rikker is now openly gay. Graham is living a lie and terrified that his secret will be revealed.
Rikker and Graham have a lot to work out. First, Graham is so terrified of exposure that he will not even acknowledge Rikker or let anyone know that they knew each other as kids. Second, they have to get over the trauma and separation that happened to them in high school. Probably most importantly, Graham has to deal with accepting himself and living his true life. Finally, Rikker has to deal with the outright homophobia from his family and some of his teammates.
I thought Bowen did a good job with the turmoil, fear, and unhappiness that Graham was living with. She also dealt deftly with the numerous ways being gay was challenging–even in this relatively progressive time period we are in now. For some reason, I did not quite connect to Graham and Rikker as a couple as much as I have some of her other couples. I do not think it was because it was about two men–although it is probably easier to connect when I can put myself in the heroine’s shoes. However, I sometimes felt like it got a little repetitive, with Graham and Rikker hooking up, but Graham not moving much at all emotionally. I think I like sex to signify intimacy in the relationship, and Graham and Rikker seemed to have a lot of sex with little to no relationship growth. I understand why Graham gave into his desires before he was able to accept what he was doing emotionally, but I think I prefer the emotional intimacy to come first. I still liked it, but The Year We Fell Down is still my favorite.
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