Title: The Secret Year
Author: Jennifer R Hubbard
May Contain Spoilers
Colt and Julia were secretly together for a year, and no one ever knew, not even Julia’s boyfriend. Why would they, they were from two different crowds. Julia lived in her country club world and Colt . . . didn’t. Then Julia dies in a car accident. Colt is devastated but can’t mourn openly, and he’s tormented that he may have played a part in her death. And when Julia’s journal ends up in his hands, he is forced to relive their year together, just when he is trying to forget. The problem is, how do you get over someone who was never really yours to begin with?
This was one of my picks for the 2010 Debut Author Challenge, but I didn’t get to it in time. It’s not a long book, but halfway through, I had to put it down and take a break from it. This isn’t a light read, but because I never really connected with protagonist Colt, it left me ambivalent. I love the premise, how keeping one secret from your friends and family can effect the rest of your life. It would have had a greater impact on me, though, if Colt hadn’t been so emotionally distant.
Colt’s ability to keep his secret and remain detached is what allows the secret to exist in the first place. He is caught up in a forbidden affair with Julia, a rich girl who hangs out with all of the beautiful, privileged kids at their school. Colt is one of the poor kids, he’s not remarkable for anything, and he kind of likes it that way. A chance encounter with Julia leads to a year-long relationship with her, which ends when she is tragically killed in a car accident. Colt is left reeling; he can’t mourn her death publically, because nobody knew about their clandestine meetings. Not his best friend, not her best friend, and certainly not Julia’s rich boy friend, Austin. Instead, Colt is left to reconcile Julia’s absence by himself, and he’s not doing a very good job of it.
The Secret Year reads like a slice of life novel. Mundane episodes from Colt’s life, both with and without Julia, are examined in depth as he struggles to make sense of it all. He can’t, and that leaves him running in place, unable to move forward with a new relationship, or to get over the emptiness he’s left with. He feels cheated that he has to grieve in silence, but his quest for answers leaves him asking the wrong people too many questions. He yearns to know if he meant as much to Julia as she meant to him, but he doesn’t know where to find the answer. When he comes in possession of her diary, a journal that she seems to have written to him, he thinks he’s found what he’s looking for.
The book didn’t effect me as deeply as I had hoped, and it’s all because of Colt’s inability to express his feelings. He keeps his emotions carefully guarded, and this standoffishness kept me from being engaged in his narrative. Neither Julia nor Colt ever came clean with their feelings, and that left me so frustrated. Though I was a bit disappointed, The Secret Year has a great premise, and it left me with a lot to think about.
Note: I read the hardcover, but the paperback is now available in stores.
Review copy purchased from Amazon