The Secret Year by Jennifer Hubbard
Release Date: Jan. 2010
One year. That's how long Colt and Julie secretly dated without anyone knowing. Not their family or best friends, and certainly not Julia's boyfriend. Even at school, Julia would go out of her way to ignore Colt; after all, she was a county-club goer and he was "white-trash". But when they met on Friday nights down by the creek, none of that really mattered. They become teens who connected, and possibly loved, like they never had before. However, everything changes when Julia dies in a car accident. Not being allowed to mourn in public, Colt soon learns the price of secrecy. His only saving grace is a journal that Julia wrote during their relationship that ends up in his hands. It gives him the chance to relive the past as he mourns. The only question is what was he to Julia? Did she really love him or was he just a fling? And will the journal finally answer his lingering doubts or will it just add more?
The Short of It: I’m beginning to believe I’m one of those readers who is not the norm. After all the rave reviews, I expected to love this one. Instead, I found myself in neutral ground where I neither loved nor hated the book. The storyline was interesting, but it didn’t quite click with me. However, while not one of my favorites, it will still be one I’ll recommend.
Plot: I was certainly intrigued by the secret romance and Julia’s journal, but something about the plot felt short for me. I really can’t put my finger on it, but I never felt as if I was completely drawn into the world created. Maybe because I didn’t feel as if I knew enough about the before to truly care about the after. There were so many whispers of possibilities that could be that I was sad to never see fully see bloom.
Of course, perhaps the real reason I didn’t fall in love with this book is my own fault. Before chapter one had even ended the thought of “Oh, hey, this is like Twenty Boy Summer, but from the boy’s perspective” had entered my mind. I know, I know, I shouldn’t have, but I really couldn’t help it. The basic story of the secret love that dies kept pulling me there. I kept expecting so much more, but it just never appeared.
Characters: This is one of those instances where I cared about the secondary characters more than the main ones. Julia was too wishy-washy; one of those girls who could never make up her mind. She was a big-name around the school, but I don’t think anyone ever truly saw who she was. And I still haven’t decided if she was a master manipulator or someone who was too scared to publicly step out of her box. I’m leaning towards the latter, but the way she played with Colt’s emotions was maddening. I wish she would have just made up her mind instead of believing she could have the best of both worlds.
And Colt. I liked Colt, I really did, I just wanted to snap him out of it. I know he was grieving and what not, but the boy needed to let go. I feel like a jerk saying that, but he grieved almost as long as they were together. He was obsessed with this girl that was never really his. And when he got the opportunity to have the real thing he blew it because he was still too wrapped up in a dead girl. I guess I just can’t understand having such deep feelings for someone who would only acknowledge you when there was no one around. If it were me, I would feel pretty worthless and I don’t think I would really want to continue to be in that situation.
However, I did like the secondary characters, especially Syd, Tom, and Kirby. I enjoyed when they made their way into the story and would have loved to see more of them. Perhaps because they were everything that Julia and Colt couldn’t be. They had their issues, but when it came down it they were afraid to let the truth be known or stand up for what they believed in. I was definitely cheering on Tom and Kirby as they stepped out and did what they thought was right, no matter what the consequences were.
Romance: I feel like I’ve basically stated how I feel about the romance issue. As far as Julia and Colt go, I never truly felt the depth of their love. There were hints about how their world felt different when they were alone, but it still felt like a sham to me. How can you spend a year hiding something and consider it to be real? There were hints of how Julia and Colt both loved each other, but if that were true, wouldn’t they have come out of the shadows much sooner? I know we’re supposed to believe that Julia was going to break-up with her boyfriend, but I’m not sure I believe she ever would. She was too comfortable with the perfect image in the light and the perfect fling in the dark. And while it was supposed to be something with no strings attached, I think we all know that never really works.
There were other hints of romances with Colt, especially with Kirby, but they never got the chance to fully develop. I was really rooting for these two, hoping that Kirby could break him out of the endless obsession that he had. And while I think she ultimately did help him, it was too little too late. I suppose that their relationship was a very realistic approach, but the happily-ever-after part of me had hoped for so much more.
Writing: I have absolutely no complaints here. Hubbard weaves a good story that will easily keeps the reader interested. I can’t remember anything that bothered me or pulled me out of the story. My neutral attitude really does have more to do with the characters than the actual writing. Yes, the characters weren’t really intriguing to me, but Hubbard delivered them well. I really did enjoy her style and look forward to picking up future works.
Librarian-Mode: This is going to do well with your realistic-loving crowd. The ones who don’t care about happy endings and want something real. I would easily recommend The Secret Year to those who enjoy books like Play Me, You Know Where to Find Me or Twenty Boy Summer.
Ok, now it’s your turn! Have you read The Secret Year? If so, what did you think?