Title: The Secret Year
Author: Jennifer R. Hubbard
Received From: Around the World tours (hosted by Cindy of Princess Bookie fame!)
Take Romeo and Juliet. Add The Outsiders. Mix thoroughly. Colt and Julia were secretly together for an entire year, and no one—not even Julia’s boyfriend— knew. They had nothing in common, with Julia in her country club world on Black Mountain and Colt from down on the flats, but it never mattered. Until Julia dies in a car accident, and Colt learns the price of secrecy. He can’t mourn Julia openly, and he’s tormented that he might have played a part in her death. When Julia’s journal ends up in his hands, Colt relives their year together at the same time that he’s desperately trying to forget her. But how do you get over someone who was never yours in the first place?
Colt and Julia are from two different worlds--Colt from the working class side of town, the flats, and Julia a trust fund baby from Black Mountain. But they have one thing in common--each other. Meeting secretly by a river every Friday, they have kept upn a secret relationship for an entire year. Until Julia is killed in a car crash just before school starts. Left to grieve on his own, Colt is finding it harder to move on then he anticipated, and now he has to wonder if Julia was really worth it.
Okay, so I was MAJORLY dissapointed by Hubbard's debut effort. Not just because of the slight shallowness of it all (though that was a huge contributing factor), but because it just lacked that emotional drive one would expect from a Romeo and Juliet/Outsiders/forbidden love/tragedy. You know, the gut-wrenching, sob-inducing lonlieness and sympathy for the main character. I felt Colt was such a tool--not in the d-bag sense, but in the way he didn't seem to live for anybody but his Girl of the Week (or Year?). First it's Julia, the girl that takes up his waking thought long after she's dead and buried, or Syd, best friend turned rebound girlfriend (for three pages) that Colt only goes out with cause omg her daddy left and now she's soooo lonely and dangit now he has to sleep with her SHITBALLS! and then it's Kirby, girl he hardly knows but somehow forms a relationship with even though she's dating Julia's little brother MICHAEL (and did I mention Julia had a boyfriend while they were doing their thing? Does this guy just go for the taken kind?) And then there's odd book references and some shallow emotional depth (oxymoron?) and little to no character devolpment. No one seemed to have a personality and, honestly, I found myself caring less and less with each topsey-turvy paragraph.
Julia, despite her deadness, seems to be the only character that truly shines. While seemingly the Rich Girl with a Secret Depth that you never really see but it's mentioned a lot, Julia proves to be a layered, fascinating chick who at once made me want to strangle her (for making Colt feel like dirt and saying she's gonna dump Austin but SURPRISE SURPRISE never gets around to it) and hug her (for being so poetic and so angsty and so sad in her journal entries). Colt himself seems to remember what he wants to until the very end, and I put the book down feeling like I'd been lied to in a very complicated way. He thinks of her as a a girl trapped in a beat-down situation, a girl who would gladly give up her country club membership and high society status to be with him. And, surprisingly enough, even Julia's own journal entries/letters to Colt seems to varify her longing to dissapear with him. But then reality happens, and memories of who Julia really was--both from Colt and his friends--prove to be too bold to ignore. It's a good plot device, whether intentional or not. Was she really this amazing girl Colt knew from those Friday nights in her car? Or was she just a snobbish trust fund baby slumming around and cheating on her boyfriend? The journal entries say one thing, but the memories of Kirby and Syd and everyone else in the school scream something completly different. I was kind of feeling bad for Colt, who was clearly being used and abused but his affectionate recollections of Julia deceiving the reader to believe otherwise. Plus, you know, secret girlfriend dying, and he's left with no shoulders lean on as everyone else. Kinda sucks.
But, honestly, any clever mind-games Hubbard delivered seemed purely accidental. Every character fell under the MC Flu. Just as Colt existed for his girls, everyone else seemed to exist for Colt. Despite shallow attempts at depth (i.e. Tom, Colt's brother, coming out of the closet to he and his over-worked parents during Thanksgiving dinner), it all seems to come of as corny and insincere (i.e. said closet-coming-out-of turning out to be a Lesson to Be Learned that secrets can't *gasp* last forever HOW CLEVER YOU GUYS!)
While Colt does seem pretty down-to-earth, this could just stem from his lack of personality and weird studly-ness (he's basically had four girls swooning over him within the course of his reccolections) and I've basically had it up to here with Kirby and her annoying nosiness. (she wants him to get rid of the journal and he's like, "ugh, bitch, please" and she's all like, "wah" and then doesn't speak to him pretty much ever again and it's just weird, you guys). Colt's parents are protrayed as lazy good-for-nothings that could care less about he and Tom, though, again, I was left crying "unreliable narrator" because I'm really sick of no one in YA literature having a stable home life. Can't you have a good, sympathetic character without bitchy parents? no? well, then your just stupid.
Hubbard also injected the strangest subplots that really had so little to do with Julia or Colt that I was just kind of in a bad mood because of it. There's a war-thing that's not realy violent as it is wimpy between the flat folk and the Black Mountain kids, plut the thing with Syd and all of Colt's friends being insensitive and pigish and Tom's gayness and Michael and Kirby and Kirby and Coly and Austin and tire slashing and I'm just like whut? The Secret Year had great potential and, really, Hubbard does have potential to be a fantatic writer. But she's got to decide what her books gonna be about and just write that, instead of sticking all these elements into 200 pages.
Overall, The Secret Year was a huge-ass dissapointment with flimsy characters and a mismatched plot. If your that interested, get it from the library, but don't write off this author completly. I will be looking forward to whatever else she has to put out there, but not with baited breath.
Rating: 4 out of 10
Also: I got this copy from Around the World Tours, hosted by Princess Bookie. You can sign up for some book tours, read it and review it, then send it along to the next person. A great way to get reviews out there without breaking the publisher's bank.