Sunday, March 21, 2010

Review: The Secret Year

The Secret Year
Young Adult Contemporary
Viking/January 2010
Library book

From the author's website ~

Seventeen-year-old Colt has been sneaking out at night to meet Julia, a girl from an upper-class neighborhood unlike his own. They’ve never told anyone else about their relationship: not their family or friends, and especially not Julia’s boyfriend. When Julia dies suddenly, Colt tries to cope with her death while pretending that he never even knew her. He discovers a journal Julia left behind. But Colt is not prepared for the truths he discovers about their intense relationship, nor to pay the price for the secrets he’s kept.

This little book really surprised me, in a good way. The premise is in the style of West Side story but the twist is that the heroine is dead when the book begins. We get to know her through her own words, written in her journal, and through the memories of the hero, Colt. We get to see how he deals with her death in secret, just like their relationship. For a teen to have to lose someone they care about is hard but to have to grieve in quiet solitude must be even harder, causing pain and confusion.

I think part of the reason I liked this book so much and was able to connect with it so quickly was because of Colt. It's told in his POV. I liked his dark, dry humor and found myself laughing at some of the strangest times. He tells it like it is, and doesn't go easy on himself. What we get is his guilt over Julia's death and his questions about what role he played in her death. Colt doesn't do a whole lot of "why me" which was refreshing. He knew where he was from, the flats as it's called. The blue collar neighborhood where his mother works as a waitress and his father drinks, a lot. And Julia was a kid from Black Mountain Road where the mansions and money are. Completely different worlds.

Colt and Julia meet along the river bank. They strike up a peculiar relationship, meeting in secret, mostly by the river. Julia is afraid of being caught but she also gets a secret thrill from "almost" being caught. Colt is a laid back guy and seems to get swept up in her. Completely overpowered by her personality is a good way to describe what happens to him. She's so different than what he's encountered in his very limited experience with the opposite sex.

The aftermath of Julia's death leaves Colt at odds with his group of friends. He needs to talk to someone about Julia and their relationship but he can't. Then her journal falls into his hands and he gets to find out what she thought of their relationship. He gets to relive their year together through her eyes. While he is doing that he is also caught up in the middle of the rivalry of the kids from the flats and the kids from Black Mountain. Colt has some issues with Austin Chadwick, one of the Black Mountain guys. Austin was Julia's boyfriend and Colt can't stand him. The dissension between the two groups emphasizes how the high school society would have viewed Julia and Colt's relationship.

The one real problem I had with the story was the teen angst. Too heavy for my liking but remember, I'm not a teen so of course this is totally from my older perspective. Would I have thought the same when I was a teen? Maybe. I don't think it would have irritated me as much. I do think Hubbard did a good job with the characterizations. Some even reminded me of people I knew when I went to high school. lol

The Secret Year is an interesting and different story. I think by having it begin with Julia already dead, the focus could be on Colt. Had she still been alive, I have a feeling her presence would have overpowered his and we would have missed out on the unique perspective of the teen male. The Secret Year, Hubbard's debut novel, is a quick read at just under 200 page, but it packs a solid punch. Dealing with forbidden love, social class conflicts, secrets and loyalty.

Rating: B+


  1. Sound very interesting as a book, but I can imagine all the angst. Still, it's quite interesting as a concept, because there would be a lot of Colt POV. Hmmm, wonder if my library is going to get it...

    Did your daughter read it? Did she find it too angsty?

  2. nath ~ Abby hasn't read it yet. I had to return it before she could read it. She's more into fantasy/scifi but she might give it a go.

  3. Leslie, this is a great review. You know I don't read YA romance and it made me curious... *g* I'm wondering how he got his hands on that journal, how she died and what she really thought of him and their relationship -- especially since she had a boyfriend. Huh.

  4. Hils ~ well, I could answer all your questions. LOL Sadly, it's hard for me to say buy it because it is hardcover and it is short. Try the library maybe? I don't know why so many YA are hardcover.

  5. This one sounds kind of sad, but since it's under 200 pages, I could deal with it for that duration. LOL. I'll have to scout the libraries for this one. Thanks for the review.

  6. Christine ~ it has some sad moments but the overall feel isn't doom and gloom. More like a learning experience that's not always happy but I didn't find it depressing.