Reviewed by Mandi
I very recently wrote a blog post gushing my love for the Ivy Years series by Sarina Bowen, so it should be no surprise that the third book in this series gets an easy A grade from me. It’s so well done that I just want to read it over and over again. Let me set it up.
As teenagers, Graham and Rikker were best friends and as they got a bit more mature and spent more time together, their friendship turned into a romance. Still not truly understanding their feelings for each other but knowing for the time being, they should to keep it a secret, they were very careful to only turn over to their lust when completely alone. One day after they get their driver’s licenses, they go into the city, and start making out in a car. A group of guys notice this, and start attacking them. Graham is able to get up and run away, leaving Rikker alone to be beaten, badly. While Rikker does recover, he never hears from Graham again. Rikker admits to being gay and gets thrown out of his house – he ends up in Vermont and is raised by his loving grandmother. Graham goes deeply into the closet. Graham and Rikker never see or speak to each other again through high school and the beginning of college.
(omg – can you guys stand the tension??)
Fast forward to their college years. Graham is a star hockey player at Harkness college. He dates and sleeps with women. He is so deeply in the closet and has molded himself so tight that he never, ever wants to let on for a single instance that he might be gay.
Even worse, I’d made it to age twenty-one without ordering a cappuccino. Because at some point during my ignorant youth, I’d heard somebody say that it was a girly drink. And I’d crossed cappuccinos off the list without a second thought. That’s how I’d always done it. There were a thousand little decisions I made in service to hiding something big. All my clothes were blue or gray or black. (Except my hockey jacket. And there could hardly be a manlier piece of clothing.) My backpack was a plain color. My bedspread was regulation navy blue. I lived by a weird, self-imposed aesthetic, focused on never appearing gay.
But things are going to change. In his junior year, after some private photos are released, Rikker’s college finds out he is gay and throws him off the team. Harkness College welcomes him with open arms and as fate would have it, he is now on the same hockey team as Graham. The day he walks in the locker room and sees Graham for the first time since they were teens….let’s just say this was an extremely tense meeting. Graham is terrified to be associated with Rikker. They avoid each other as much as possible, Graham even going as far as to say that he has never met Rikker in his life.
But being on the same team, being forced to hang out – eventually these two have to confront what happened long ago.
The angst in this book is at a high level, but it’s realistic angst. The guilt Graham feels for leaving his friend and lover to get beaten all those years ago weighs so, so heavy on him. The terror he feels that anyone should ever know that his heart beats for men weighs heavy on him. It’s a dark journey we go on with Graham, a journey that is rewarding when all is said and done, but it’s tough.
And Bowen gives us Rikker who is not one to let the past drag him down. After moving east to live with his grandmother, he dates in high school. He has a serious boyfriend to start college. He goes to gay bars and is okay with who he is. He is still nervous to have to tell his teammates he is gay – and there are some that are truly horrible to him through the entire book (in a way, I think Bowen really shows us how cruel people can be and she doesn’t hold back any punches. The cruel teammates don’t magically change their tune and I appreciated that) , but he deals with it. He could lash out at Graham and ridicule him and spread rumors about him – but he doesn’t He respects him – he hates the fact that Graham feels like he has to hide, but he understands and gives him space.
The quietest moments in Bowen’s books are what impact me the most. There is this huge build-up in the book to where Graham and Rikker finally acknowledge and speak to one another – and it goes differently than how I anticipated. I’m not going to share a quote from this scene because I think it’s best if you let it play out as you read, but it made me pause and reread because it was so emotional.
These two re-start their romance and it’s warm, and special and sexy. And while they still have to work around Graham’s extreme fear, they start to figure things out. They work on it together and it all falls into place – there are a lot of bumps and intense and cruel moments, but it does work itself out.
Let me also note, there is a big character named Bella that at first I thought she would annoy me and be way too much for me – but I ended up loving her. I really hope she gets a book.
Highly recommend this one. I hope you all try it. (It can be read as a stand alone)