This is a slow burn love story, the kind that takes eight years to finally come together, the kind that has both main characters taking years to realize that the “casual” thing they started when they were teens is, in fact, the most important relationship in their lives.
Shane Hollander and Ilya Rozanov meet in December 2008, when they are both 17, at the world junior hockey tournament. They’re both the best players on their respective teams, sure to be drafted by the NHL that spring, and destined to be rivals. Shane and Ilya have nothing in common, other than being really great at hockey. Shane is a half-Japanese Canadian, polite, handsome, wholesome, with a loving family. Ilya is Russian, cocky, brash, with a cruel family. Their rivalry starts almost immediately, driven by how different they are, compounded by the long-standing rivalry between their teams (Boston and Montreal), and fed by the media and fans.
But Shane and Ilya have a secret: they’ve been hooking up since they were 19 years old. Hard enough to come out as an NHL player, never mind a superstar NHL player. But coming out as two superstar rival NHL players who have been having a secret affair for years? Impossible.
The book follows Shane and Ilya from that first meeting in December 2008 when they are 17 until the epilogue in January 2019 when they are 27. But it’s not a straight narrative: we check in with them at different times, sometimes skipping several years and sometimes devoting several chapters to a single month. This shouldn’t work as well as it does, but Rachel Reid is very good at showing this slow evolution in the character’s feelings and thoughts. The seeds are planted early, but they take a while to sprout and develop strong roots. And the reasons that they can’t be together, the very real career considerations to coming out, aren’t glossed over. The characters reach a “happy ever after” that is happy for them, that works for them. It’s perhaps not the typical definition of happily ever after, but I loved it! I highly, highly recommend this.