I was chatting with my good friend Angie about books recently and she mentioned that the Ivy Years by Sarina Bowen is pretty good. Here’s the tweet where she recommends them:
Since this series has Angie’s stamp of approval, further evidenced by her glowing review of The Year We Hid Away, I read the books as soon as I could.
I can count on one hand the number of times I’ve tried ice skating (obviously it’s not common in sunny Manila or Singapore) and what I know of hockey is basically what I’ve seen on the Mighty Ducks movies when I was young. But I think it’s a fun sport, even if I’m not familiar with it, so that’s one aspect of the series that I enjoyed reading about. Another thing that I really liked was the fictional Ivy League college setting of the book. I loved my college years and it makes me happy to read about characters who are at that stage in their lives. So far, the only books that have a college setting that have made a positive impact on me are Easy by Tamarra Webber and Fangirl by Rainbow Rowell. Now I can add Sarina Bowen’s books to that (short) list.
The Year We Fell Down
I started The Year We Fell Down late one night and was pleasantly surprised by how easy it was to get into the story. I stayed up late and was able to read a good chunk of it, but had to eventually go to bed and get some sleep because I had work the next day. For a novel that has a main character who was recently in an accident, The Year We Fell Down didn’t have as much angst as I was expecting. I really liked Corey and sympathized with the situation she found herself in – to suddenly have lost the function of her legs is brutal for someone who has always wanted a career in sports. I feel like she handles her issues well in spite of all the difficult adjustments that she has to make in her life. At first, she mostly interacts with her roommate Dana and their neighbor Hartley, but eventually she starts exploring her options and expanding her circle. I really enjoyed reading about how she takes charge of her life. I liked the slow burn romance between Corey and Hartley and how it started with the two of them hanging out as friends. Hartley is a great guy but he has his own problems to deal with and I felt that it took a while for him to work through them. He was being quite dense for a while there. I also felt like the build-up of their relationship was much better than the final few chapters of the book. It’s still an enjoyable read overall but I think the other books in the series are stronger than this installment.
The Year We Hid Away
Oh boy! Bridger and Scarlet sure have some pretty serious problems in their lives and none of it is their fault. Both are caught in difficult situations because of their parents. Bridger and Scarlet are just doing the best that they can and taking things one day at a time. Bridger doesn’t even have room in his life for a relationship and he doesn’t plan to get involved with Scarlet but they just click and become friends anyway. It’s a very realistic college development: how they hang out during lunch, walk to classes together and study together. It’s funny that these two are both hockey players but they don’t even bond over the game because they both have their reasons for not joining the varsity team this season. That’s one thing that I wish we got to see more of, it would have been nice if they got to spend some time together on the ice. I’m glad we got to see more of Bridger than how he was shown in the first book, basically a player who parties hard. There’s really so much more to him than that and it’s amazing how he copes with everything that’s going on with his life. I really liked Scarlet and could understand her need to move away from her parents and get a fresh start in college. Bridger and Scarlet are pretty similar in the sense that they felt like they had to deal with their problems on their own, so I liked seeing them rely on each other as their relationship developed. I was hoping to see more of Hartley and Corey in this installment but Bridger was actively distancing himself from his friends because he didn’t want to burden them with his problems. But that’s a minor issue that I had with the book and I was fully absorbed from start to finish. I was happy with how things worked out towards the end.
Blonde Date is different from the rest of the books in the series because it’s a novella that occurs in between books 2 and 3 and has nothing to do with hockey. If you read The Year We Hid Away, you already know how Blonde Date will end. I enjoyed this quick read because it features secondary characters from the second book. Andy was such a nice guy and was a huge help to Bridger so I liked seeing him in the limelight. He really deserved to get a date with a girl he’s been crushing on. It was also nice to see that there was Katie had more depth than was initially depicted in the earlier book. Short and sweet, Blonde Date was a fun read that had its funny moments (e.g. Andy’s internal monologue).
The Understatement of the Year
Rikker and Graham! Oh my goodness, these two boys have such a bittersweet romance. So much history between the two of them. And then so much tension when they meet again a few years after they’ve parted ways. I wanted to hug these two and tell them that everything will be all right. I love that Sarina Bowen chose to do something different by bringing in an M/M romance in a series that has earlier M/F novels. I found it fascinating to read two different perspectives in this novel: Rikker who is openly gay vs. Graham who has hidden deep inside the closet. It’s funny that the situations they find themselves in are so different and yet they’re both so isolated and lonely. Rikker struggles with being accepted and recognized as a part of the hockey team and also has to deal with being a transfer student. Graham can’t even figure out whether he’s straight or gay and therefore, can’t really be true to himself, his friends or his family. He tries to numb himself with as much alcohol as he can take the moment Rikker enters the scene because he has no idea what to do. To be honest, there were moments when Graham was being frustratingly difficult but I forgive him because he has reasons for being like that and he really is sweet and loyal in his own way. I was a little nervous while reading their story because I really wanted things to work out for them. They’ve already had enough heartbreak in their lives and they deserve to have some happiness. I liked that the story didn’t just revolve around these two guys but also involved their teammates (Hartley was a steady presence in this one), their friends and their family. I loved Graham’s mom, Rikker’s grandma, their mutual friend Bella and even Rikker’s ex Skippy. It was a pleasure reading about Rikker and Graham and their story stayed with me days after I finished the book. A solid installment in a series that I’ve thoroughly enjoyed.
These books are companion novels and can stand well enough on their own. Some characters overlap but I don’t think one book spoils any of the others. If anything, I wanted the books to be more closely tied together – to see all of the characters hang out and be good friends to each other because they all deserve to have trustworthy friends who will stand up for them. I feel like Sarina Bowen has a knack for writing about characters in messy situations, with more serious problems on top of the usual ones that a regular college student would have. I always root for her characters and I’m more than satisfied with how their problems are resolved. The Ivy Years is a really good series and I’ve been recommending it left and right, definitely one of my favorite discoveries this year. I can’t wait to read the next book in the series, I heard it’s going to be about Bella, who was a pretty important character in The Understatement of the Year. Good to know she’ll be getting her own story!