The Secret Year - Review

The Secret Year by Jennifer R. Hubbard
Publication date: January 7, 2010
ISBN 10/13: 0670011533 / 9780670011537

Category:Young Adult Fiction
Format: Hardcover (I read a paper-bound copy borrowed as part of ARC tour)
Keywords: Romance, Secrets, Lies, Love, Death, Loss, Social Situations

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How I found out about this book: The buzz for this book was pretty strong at the end of last year, and I was lucky enough to get on the Other Shelf Tour (we had too few copies at work for me to borrow it).

Quickie: Touching on teen angst is always a tricky prospect, but Jennifer Hubbard pulls off a grand debut with The Secret Year. When Colt gets his hands on a notebook full of letters his secret girlfriend, Julia, wrote but never sent to him, he begins to question his perception of the past, and the lies that continue to haunt him after Julia's death.

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My review: Actual boys may call it differently, but as a female reader experiencing a male character narrating a romance I thought The Secret Year was very well done. Colten's the geeky, quiet, cute guy I and most of my readers probably had a crush on in high school. That he got it on with the hottest, richest girl in his class is pretty unbelievable--that what they had together may really have been love, and not just teen hormones raging, sounds just about impossible, until you read the book. The reality of Colt and Julia's emotional changes and how that affects the decisions they make is what keeps the reader hooked--it certainly hooked me.

The Secret Year touches on the social division of haves/have-nots, the tension between opposites, and teen relationships (romantic, parental, friendly and otherwise) all compounded with the stress of keeping a huge secret. Colt blames himself for Julia's death--a car accident on a winding Black Mountain road--even though he wasn't there, couldn't have been, and can't ask about it without seeming strange. As a kid from the flats, he's not supposed to care about her apart from a remote, this-rich-popular-girl-from-my-school-died kind of way. As Colt desperately tries to reconcile his hidden grief and his public life, he slides deeper into a private melancholy. The result is moving, sad, and strangely cathartic.

Who should read this book: Sex, alcohol, and violence do figure prominently as plot movers in this novel; I thought the subjects were handled realistically and without that preachy after-school special feel. So I recommend this for older YA readers (15 and above).

The Secret Year is Jennifer R. Hubbard's first novel. 

Find the author at, on Twitter @JennRHubbard

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