YA literature


Jennifer Hubbard’s The Secret Year has gotten a lot of hype as a book “you must read when it comes out” and with that kind of attention attached to it there was no way I was going to let it pass me by.  The day I picked the book up was a perfect day for reading, you know the cold dreary ones where you just want to wrap yourself in your favorite blanket and not move all day which is essentially what I did.  3 hours later I was finished with the book.  I guess you can say it held me interest…..

Basically, The Secret Year is the rich person-poor person love story with a little bit of a twist.  Black Mountain and “the flats” may be close together location wise but they are really worlds apart.  If you live on Black Mountain, you socialize with Black Mountain folks and if you live in the flats that are who your people are.  Sometimes relationships between the two groups work out but not very often.  Usually if you are hanging with the folks from the flats, it is considered slumming.  Julia is a child of wealth having grown up on Black Mountain in her fancy house, with her fancy car and all the niceties being well off allows.  Colton is from the flats living in a house that is the size of just one of her rooms.  His family struggles at times to pay the bills.  What could those two possibly have in common?  Technically, no one could say that they can’t date. They weren’t breaking any laws by hooking up.  Their friends and social class boundaries were really the only thing that stood in their way.  Oh wait there was one more thing…Austin Chadwick, Julia’s boyfriend.  Yes…. you read that right…..Julia has a boyfriend but every Friday night for the last year, the duo still got together down by the river in Colton’s world.  The rest of the days of the week, he is pretty much a non entity, not privy to the happenings of Julia’s world.   Things come to a head when tragedy strikes and Julia is killed.  No one knows about them, so he can’t mourn publically. All he has is the memories of their nights together.  Julia’s brother is the only one who knows about them after coming across a secret journal Julia was keeping.  Colt’s name was never spelled out but Michael figured out who CM was easily enough and gives him the journal.  The journal, through letters, details very intimate details of their relationship ( if that is what you want to call it) and Colt is stuck in limbo of wanting to stay in the past with her and moving forward with his life and possibly someone else.

 This is one of those books I think you are going to love or going to hate. If I had to base it on those extremes I would be Switzerland remaining neutral.  I really liked Ms. Hubbard’s style of writing but Julia left a bitter distaste in my mouth.  It seemed to me that because she was rich a different set of rules applied. She sat on her Black Mountain throne and thumbed her nose to the people below her – even Colton.  Her moral compass was a little of whack and could use a little adjusting.  You can’t always have your cake and eat it too.  I did, however, like Colton but then again real down to earth guys is what I am attracted to.  I would take a guy is a pair of jeans and laid back attitude any day over a guy driving around in his littler beemer with an attitude.  I felt bad for Colton at a few points throughout the book but I also thought that he brought it upon himself by settling for those secret trysts.  He had a piece of Julia but not the whole thing and it is all because of where he came from.  He would never fit into her world and she wasn’t willing to risk making it happen. I wouldn’t want to be in a relationship based on conditions like that.  

My students, especially the ones that like to read about star-crossed lover books, will gravitate toward this book. Some guys may be turned off by the cover with the couple kissing and think it is more of a chick book but telling the story from a male’s point of view was refreshing because not often enough are emotions and relationships shown through that point of view. Afterall guys, as well, fall in love. The Secret Year shows that love  is not simple and can’t always fit in a nice closeable box.  All in all, Ms. Hubbard shows the world she can write with this debut novel. I look forward to her future endeavors.

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Last summer I was engrossed in dystopian and vampiric novels, this year everything I read is dealing with love, death and the beach.  Not that I am complaining – there is nothing better than sitting on the beach or by the pool with a “suck you in from the first page” romance and a cool drink by your side. I am about to recommend a book – read Sarah Ockler’s debut novel “Twenty Boy Summer” if you haven’t already,   Its about love and friendship and dealing with grief and it is so well written. So many times throughout this book I grew teary eyed as if it was me not the character riding an emotional rollercoaster.  I remember my first boyfriend, the kisses that made heart race faster, and all the incredible conversations and other little moments. First love can be intense, passionate and inspire a great deal of bad poetry.  But what happens when your relationship with this love ends much too quickly for reasons beyond your control such as death?

 For years Frankie, Anna and her brother Matt have been palling around.  For years, Anna has been secretly in love with Matt and hoping desperately that one day he would feel the same about her.  Every year on her birthday she had the same wish that Matt would finally kiss her. The stars were aligned in Anna’s favor on her fifteenth birthday because that is exactly what Matt did.  It wasn’t easy keeping their growing feelings from Frankie but they decided to wait for the right time to tell her.  Only before the secret can be revealed, Matt dies tragically. Its seems that their love began with a smile, grew with a kiss, and ended with a teardrop.

Despite tragedy life goes on.  It hasn’t been easy for anyone. Words cannot express the grief one feels when one loses love. Everybody has their own way of dealing.  Some people like Anna take on a more insightful approach hanging on to the memories (secretly of course), others like Frankie act out and then there are those who withdraw from the world like the mom.  Sarah Ockler has impressed me with her writing.  I think it takes a writer of great skill to come up with a plot that is fun and light but at the same time meaningful.  

 Every summer Frankie and her family go to their beach house in Zanzibar Bay .  Every summer Frankie and Matt come back with stories for Anna. Going back to a place filled with with such good times and memories is difficult but yet just a summer after Matt’s death the family heads back but this time with Anna in tow.  Ockler has managed to combine the heaviness of a tragedy with the lightheartedness of a perfect summer vacation at the beach. Frankie is determined despite everything to have the best summer ever and it starts with a guy hunt – 20 guys by the end of the summer – for each of them.  The secret of Matt really bogs Anna down on this quest. Her grief genuinely touched me and her confusion about keeping Matt close to heart or finding a new love was very believable.  There is hope in this quest. Will this be the summer that Anna actually finds love again?  

 What does Sarah Ockler have next up her sleeve?  If this book is any indication, I am sure her next book will be just as good.  I can’t wait to find out……