The Understatement of the Year by Sarina Bowen (The Ivy Years #3)
M/M New Adult Romance
Released: September 29, 2014
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)
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I loved this book. Great review.
What I love about this series is that it epitomizes what new adult as genre should be about. The NA books that work best for me are those where the characters grow and work out some serious stuff about themselves, their families and their pasts. There are traumas and angst, but they are realistic. They make sense. Bowen is able to make her characters so relatable. I can understand their tragedies even if I am unlikely to ever experience the trauma of being so severely closeted or having a severe spinal injury. I am able to identify with them, which is the true magic of pathos as a literary device. It’s about empathy not pity. So many NA books feature horrorific events that stir my pity for the protagonists, but don’t necessarily stir my empathy. Bowen is among a small group of authors who have captured that difference.
Yes – so well said!
While I find myself rolling my eyes at the horrific pasts or horrible things that happen to most NA protagonists, Bowen makes it feel real.
If you have any other recs, send them my way :)
Since I come to y’all for recommendations, I’m not sure how much I can really offer. The first two books of Sawyer Bennett’s “Last Call Series” were pretty engaging. The second was far more angsty, but I didn’t get that schadenfreude/pity vibe. They’re enjoyable, but not quite at the level that Bowen is at. Megan Erikson’s “Make it Count” was deftly done. And let’s not forget Samantha Young’s “Dublin Street” books (some of which are better than others). Heidi Cullinan’s “Love Lessons” was an effective (for me) m/m NA romance.
My guiltiest pleasure is Tijan, but that’s because of the crazy-sauce, good lord did that actually happen, not because I’m stirred to empathize with her characters.
Thanks! I didn’t realize Bennett had such an extensive backlist. I might try Last Call or her Off series.
Love Young and I’ve tried the first Erickson book – I should try another. I also need to catch up on Cullinan. Tori and Helyce both loved her latest stuff.
I’ve never heard of Tijan. I do love me some crazy-sauce :)
I can’t explain Tijan. It’s awful, trainwreck awful, but I can’t look away. If you do decide to take her up, I’d recommend the Broken and Screwed series over the more popular Fallen Crest series.
Bennett can be hit or miss for me. The Off series is okay, but the characters are underdeveloped in the earliest books. I had problems with her most recent offering — turns out I have a problem with “Tarzan” type stories.
Thanks! My review partner Tori is in love with Tijan as well :) How have I missed this? :)
Maybe b/c her stories are craaazzzy? She’s developing a better writing style and tighter plotting, but her earliest stuff was poorly edited. If bad editing bugs you, then you would have had good reason to steer clear.
I didn’t realize it was coming out so soon (to me as I just finished the first 2 books recently) – I can’t wait to read it!
Read it this morning in one sitting! Loved this book and immediately bought book 1 to start. I’d love for Bella to get a book – trying to imagine what kind of guy she could get matched with.
Bella’s romance would be fuuuuun :)
Liz (Bugetta) says
I could have sworn I saw one of those “ask the author” questions on Goodreads where Bowen says that Bella’s book is next, but of course I can’t find it now…Maybe it was just wishful thinking. :-D
I’m going to ask her on twitter!
Liz (Bugetta) says
Awesome! Can’t wait to find out the answer. :)
It’s Bella!! Yay!
Looks like I have some catching up to do!!! I bought first book but haven’t made time to read it. Great review!
I feel like I need to join a support group to talk about how awesome sarina Bowen and this book is. I don’t typically read NA books. They’re typically too angsty and eye-rolly for me.
But I read one of her stories in a book bundle, not this series, and thought she’s pretty good, perhaps she’ll make NA decent for me. And she did.
Book 1 was good. Book 2 better. Book 2.5 even better and this was the best.
Graham and Rikker were the so wonderful together. Poor graham torturing himself for years. Rikker so accepting of him. Their love was great. I also enjoyed that some of the harder issues didn’t just disappear.
This book felt like real people having real problems and finding real love along the way.
I highly recommend.
100% agree. Has a truly fabulous voice. I hope that those who are not familiar with m/m give this one a try too.
I want to join that support group! I just left my first amazon review ever since I felt like I had to talk about how great this book was! I also don’t normally like NA due to the prevalence of over the top angst and the lack of decent communication skills, but this was probably my favorite thing I’ve read all year.
yes yes yes :) :)
Oh goodie! Mandi, thanks for your rec on this series. I just finished book 2 and 2.5 (Andy was so adorable) and completely agree with LauraB’s comments on Bowen’s talent. I don’t usually read NA but I’ve loved this series.
I love Andy too. I think he might actually be my favorite of all her heros. :)
I haven’t read the novella!! Why haven’t I? *runs to kindle*
Let us know when you’re done and what you think.
KT Grant says
The scene where Graham tells his mother made me weepy. So beautiful. *wipes tear*