Monday, February 8, 2010

Review *The Secret Year* by Jennifer Hubbard


Julia was killed on Labor Day on her way home from a party. I didn't get to see her that night. I used to meet her on Friday nights, but I was never invited to the parties that she was invited to. We'd meet on the banks of the river, clutch at each other in the backseat of her car, steam up her windows and write messages and jokes to each other in the fog on the glass, and argue about whether to turn on the A/C. Sometimes we swam in the river late at night when the water was black and no one could see us. We did all that for a year, and nobody else knew.

The Secret Year opens a few hours after Julia dies in a car accident. Colt hears about it through his best friend, Syd, who heard it from Kirby, a girl who straddles the social divide between Black Mountain Road kids and people from The Flats. Colt has to act uninvolved as he wrings details from Syd: He and Julia were the only two people who knew about their affair. Now it is just him. When Michael, Julia's brother, hands Colt a journal of letters she's kept for him, it's the only connection he has to the girl he lost.

The story follows Colt for about a year after Julia's death, as he reads her letters/journal and tries to piece together the year they spent together in secret. Julia has a boyfriend, and she lives up on Black Mountain Road with the rich elite. Colt is from The Flats. He gets to the theme of their story right away, telling us:

That was the biggest difference between Julia and me: Black Mountain versus the flats. Not that we were Romeo and Juliet or anything. Nobody was trying to keep us apart. My family wouldn't have cared if I'd gone out with her. Julia's family probably would've hated me, but they wouldn't have locked her in her room. It was what her friends would've thought that bothered her, I think.

A cool image in the book is the river where Colt and Julia go on Friday nights to be together. They meet at night and the river looks black. After her death Colt goes there to be alone. I was looking around Jennifer's blog and I found an entry mentioning her fascination with "the river cure" mentioned by Anais Nin in one of her journals:

Described a[s a] folk cure for madness that involved placing a person next to a flowing river. The person was supposed to throw a stone into the river to unlock any blocked feelings, so that the feelings could flow again. I was not aware of this before I wrote my book, but it certainly reminded me of Colt. (Yes, there’s even a scene where he throws stones in the water.) Whether he succeeds in healing his “madness” and unlocking all the secrets that bound him to Julia, I leave you to discover. (Class of 2k10)

Another important character goes to the river when she wants to think or be alone, too. Although I don't remember the part where Colt throws a stone into the water. I DO remember the first time he kisses Julia. She's waded in wearing a slip and she teases him to come in with her. And he does. It surprises her. I liked in the book how the river was like a test of character; it attracts a certain type of person who can identify this river-attraction in others. It was well-done.

The Secret Year isn't exactly a romance novel, either. Which is the sense I initially got from the cover. Colt's interest in Julia after her death, I felt, was very natural. Kirby kind of throws it in his face a bit, like he's drawing it out too much by holding on to her journal. But I disagree. Their relationship wasn't perfect or really normal, but it was passionate and real at the time. Colt takes the year after her death to really process what she was to him and subsequently what he represented to her. Jennifer has this great blog post talking about how romance in a novel can bring out vulnerabilities in the characters, and I think this makes total sense for the "romance" in the book. Julia has flaws and only retrospect showed Colt that she wasn't exactly who she seemed. I wouldn't call their connection romantic, or really any other relationship Colt has with girls afterwards, as much as it's about two people finding out more about themselves through the eyes of another.

It's funny. This review is kind of short. I enjoyed reading the book but it was more like something to experience than to pick apart. It's very character-driven, which I like, and I enjoyed the central mystery of finding out who exactly Julia Vernon is and what her last night was like.

Mandy

Recently:

Review of Book One of The Vampire Diaries by L.J. Smith
Review of Book Two of The Vampire Diaries (I've been on a kick)
A funny take on judging books by their cover
A review of Possessed by Kate Cann (to show that I can write an okay review :) )

6 comments:

Elie said...

Great review. I have seen the cover and would have guessed that it was a romance. Interesting that you said it was something to experience, I am intrigued. thanks for posting.

Erin said...

I just got this book in the mail yesterday. I am excited to read it. Thanks for your review. :]

Juju at Tales of Whimsy.com said...

Cool review. I like how you said its something you experience and not pull apart :)

robby (once upon a book blog/fourteen years) said...

This book sounds great. I loved this review, regardless. I love books that you just feel, but you can't really explain the way you feel. It's perfect.

Mandy (Edge of Seventeen) said...

Thanks everyone. :) You guys made me feel a little better about my review. It really is a book that I just sat and read, not really writing anything down as I went.

Katie said...

I just finished this one not too long ago and I wound up feeling a lot like you -- it wasn't a romance, but it was a good book.

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