Sunday, November 17, 2019

Sarina Bowen - The Understatement of the Year

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.

Comment: This is the third installment in the Ivy Years series by author Sarina Bowen. This is an m/m title inserted in the (mainly) m/f series and I must say the the author could probably let go of writing m/f to dedicate herself exclusively to m/m stories and they would certainly be all fantastic as I felt this one ended up being.

In this story we meet hockey player John Rikker as he joins the Harkness college team after a problem with his previous team, since the conservative college didn't appreciate the fact he was exposed as being gay. Rikker is not ashamed but he feels annoyed and sad over the fact his talent didn't count but he hopes the new team can treat him way better. 
When joining the new college, he already knew he would find Michael Graham, who happens to be the guy he discovered his sexuality with but who has left him without turning back and now acts as if they never met...
Graham is still doubtful about his feelings, about who he is... being around Rikker not only brings back all the doubts and the wishes but also guilt and fear of everyone else knowing he likes guys too. Will he be able to still be friends with someone who could expose him?

I really had a great time reading this novel. The writing felt engaging and easy to go through and as it had happened with other novels by the author I had tried, this one was also fluid and filled with situations that grabbed my attention, not being solely based on sexual chemistry or discussions of civil rights as sometimes some m/m books tend to be divided into.

My favorite aspect of this book was how the guys, after years apart and a lot of doubts, lack of communication, personal change still felt so right with one another. I loved how the author put a slow pace on their reconnection, on their life in campus and among their friends/mutual acquaintances so they their interactions felt more realistic and likely to happen. I liked I was able to get to know each one as the chapters went by and I got to be able to not be just on the side of one of them. I liked how cleverly the author wrote things so that the reader could see both sides of the equation and by the end of the book I could say I got both their POVs in how things happened.

Nevertheless I liked Rikker more. Not precisely because he was out and aware of his own feelings in regards to being gay and not having the support of his parents. Graham was too afraid to acknowledge his feelings, much less Rikker's, but despite understanding his actions and fears, Rikker felt even more lonely and special and I was rooting for him in a different manner.
It was, however very special too how the two guys slowly developed the relationship they used to have, first as just team mates - even if with reluctance from Graham's side - then as fellow friends over a team's loss and them, as expected, as more than just friends.

I liked how their being gay was not a big deal but at the same time being so. It shouldn't have to be, because being gay is not a feature/characteristic one chooses but I liked this novel included some reflections on those who struggle to identify themselves, who have families/circle of friends who don't support them and although this was clearly not the focus of the story, after all this is not a documentary on accepting one's gay side, this is a sweet romance, I was still glad the story didn't run from those issues which affect so many people who suffer over not being free to be themselves.

This aside, the story has some angst, some sadness but also sexy moments and cute ones and I was really glad to follow the two guys as they reconnected and moved along. I don't tend to like lovers reunited plots nor second chance and this is precisely a mix of both but really, when done right there are no less tropes, just the incredible talent of how things can be done to convey such a wide set of emotions and situations and this happened here, I think.

I liked this story a lot. I would have loved a more extended end, maybe an epilogue, I also would have liked some scenes regarding doubts to be better balanced with good ones throughout the book but despite slight details, I liked seeing Rikker and Graham falling in love once more and their story was special for me indeed.
Grade: 9/10

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