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The content presented here is for informational or educational purposes only. These are just the authors' personal opinions and knowledge. Names, places, characters, events, and incidents are based on the authors' lives and experiences and may be changed to protect personal information. Any resemblances to actual persons (living or dead), organizations, companies, events, or locales are entirely coincidental.

WL's Mainstream Gay Book Reviews - 54. Understatement of The Year (Book 3 of Ivy Years Series) by Sarina Bowen

Going through surgery right now, so I've scheduled 3 reviews ahead of time and won't publish between December-January

Happy Holidays


I’ve been pretty hard on Sarina Bowen, but she is much better as a sports romance fiction author than she has been in other genres. The HIM series, published in August 2015, was her opus with Elle Kennedy and cemented her among the best of the gay romance authors of the 2010s. However, even before HIM, we can see elements of her great storytelling involving hockey players as far back as September 2014 with this story about college Hockey players, who struggle with acceptance and homophobia. The Ivy Years series are mostly a heterosexual collection of hockey-related romance stories, but Sarina Bowen added this little gem right in the middle of her series. I really enjoyed this story after I received the suggestion to read it. I wish Sarina Bowen will return to this story one day and give her characters a proper Happily Ever After.

Length wise, it is 308 pages long and 8 hours 50 minutes on audible. It is a well-paced read. It took me about a day to finish it, because I enjoyed the characters and their unique situations. Both the main characters are complex and their relationship evolves, so you want to know more about this 2nd chance love story.

Plot: Michael Graham appears to be your average college hockey player, he’s strong and capable of handling anything that comes his way on and off the ice. However, despite a slew of drinking and half-hearted attempts to be with women, he knew the truth was that he’s gay. He also has regrets about one particular boy, John Rikker, who he abandoned in high school during a severe homophobic incident that ended up with John Rikker in the hospital. John had left Michigan soon after the attack and Michael never had the courage to seek him out, rather he sought to hide his sexuality out of fear. Now, he must confront his past and present fully, because John Rikker has joined his college Hockey team after John’s own team’s homophobic coach had kicked him off the team due to his sexuality being exposed.

John Rikker never wanted to be the poster boy as a gay athlete, he never wanted to be judged for who he is rather than what he could bring to his team. He also never thought he’d meet his old high school lover Michael Graham again, but fate had placed them on the same team. He had always wondered why Michael would not contact him after the attack after he desperately wanted his boyfriend to be there for him. He was angry at Michael for not being there for him and abandoning him in the hospital far more than him running to safety from the homophobic attacker that got to him.

Through various events, John Rikker realizes that Michael has been medicating himself with alcohol for the last 5 years since the assault. He learns that Michael is still gay and in love with him. He also still harbors strong attraction to Michael Graham as well, but they both must face incredible obstacles and odds. There are homophobic coaches in Hockey, teammates who dislike the idea of having gay players, and family relationship issues between John’s religious uptight mother and Michael’s fear of discovery and possible rejections by others, just as he saw the rejection directed toward John. Love does triumph in the end, there is a happy ending, but it is not a complete happy ending with everything going well for the boys.

Review: I think this story was Sarina Bowen’s prototype for HIM and its series because I see a lot of story elements that she borrows from this novel and adds to HIM. It shows off a complex gay relationship between two guys, who are meeting against after falling in love with each other as teenagers. There was a bit of homophobia and sports-related issues that come into play during book 2 of the HIM book series, Us, but this story felt more melodramatic than that one. Overall, I think if you loved reading HIM, you should read this story from Sarina Bowen.

I thought Michael “Graham” was a well-developed character, who is undeniably a “gay” character. He may pretend to be heterosexual through large amounts of alcohol and sexual trysts with women, but any gay man can say this, being gay isn’t just about being able to drink yourself into forgetting you like men. His alcoholism stems from his fear of being gay bashed and rejected by his family just as John “Rikker” was. I think a lot of gay male readers and those who associate with us can see how the poor treatment of Rikker could have left this young man psychologically scarred. It took Michael a long time to come to terms with his sexuality through his true love undying devotion. The scenes of Graham and Rikker being open and unapologetic towards the end, made me want to pull out my rainbow flag. I wish the Lambda Literary Awards in 2014 or one of the other awards had the sense to give Sarina Bowen some much-deserved attention.

As for John Rikker, he’s equally powerful as a boy thrust into the spotlight, he never wanted to shine his sport or his abilities. His family hates him for his sexuality, which to his mother is an affront to her strong Christian morality, so his grandmother in Vermont took him in after the gay-bashing 5 years ago. After his sexuality was revealed to his college Hockey team, he was thrown out. In order to join another College’s team, he had no choice except to be an openly gay hockey player, because he still loved the sport. His love for Michael was real and the playfulness in which he probed his former boyfriend’s affection for him were some of the highlights to this story.

I enjoyed most of the side characters from Rikker’s ex-boyfriend and his grandmother to Graham’s caring mother. Of course, the star of the show belongs to Bella, who may I say would be the ultimate fag hag. She’s protective, confrontational, and loving to a fault with an iron will as a female Hockey team manager for male team. You have to appreciate the tenacity of this girl. Her unrequited love for Michael also made for a very genuine scene of regret between her, Michael, and John.

I also appreciate the real ending to the story, where the good guys don’t win the college championship, but made a good showing. It also ends with unanswered questions about how Rikker and Graham will make their relationship work, how John will reconnect with his family, or how Michael’s family will adjust to learning he’s gay and wants to pursue something else for his future with John.

As to the negative, I honestly can only dock this story for one thing. The homophobic teammate on Rikker and Graham’s team should probably get a good talk to. Or, better yet with guys like that, a fair one-on-one fight between Rikker or Graham and him. Sometimes, I think there’s too much aversion to giving people bloody noses and respecting bigoted ideas; if you don’t confront an asshole, he’ll just always be an asshole. With men, sometimes we answer things better after we have fought with each other than we do talking.

My Review: 4.50 out 5.00, I highly recommend this novel. It’s worth reading for all the fans of HIM series and represents one of Sarina Bowen’s best early gay fiction stories.

Copyright © 2021 W_L; All Rights Reserved.
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The content presented here is for informational or educational purposes only. These are just the authors' personal opinions and knowledge. Names, places, characters, events, and incidents are based on the authors' lives and experiences and may be changed to protect personal information. Any resemblances to actual persons (living or dead), organizations, companies, events, or locales are entirely coincidental.
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I am in total agreement with your review, score and all. I read this after a string of not-so-good MM stories and wondered if my opinion was skewed. But everything you mention resonates with my evaluation. Graham is damaged goods, and Rikker is such a wonderful human being. At first he seems too good to be true, until you meet his family. Great writing, fab dialogue and basically great storytelling—from someone who honestly couldn’t care less about hockey!

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