I do not believe that I had heard about Sarina Bowen for more than perhaps a week before DAJane posted her (now famous) money back guarantee on this book. Of course, in the face of such enthusiasm, I immediately bought it and then…
Waited for a bit.
Which I regretted pretty much as soon as I started reading it, because it truly was all that–and then some.
But see, it’s new adult and told in first person and with alternating points of view.
As I wail loudly (and more often than I like to admit, these days), I don’t like NA or first person. I don’t like either of those things, not a bit.
I don’t, I don’t, I don’t!
Until, that is, a talented writer shows me how it’s done, and then I inhale three novels and one novella one after the other, barely pausing for things like work or sleep. (Fortunately, I mastered the art of one-handed eating, getting dressed, etc a very long time ago) (because of holding books, you pervs, get your minds out of the gutter)
Where was I? Ah, yes.
I bought it on DAJane’s recommendation, waited a month, inhaled it and then bought the next three books in the series the same day, and proceeded to binge on them. Which brings me to this review.
The Year We Fell Down, by Sarina Bowen
Oh my, the good book noises from this one were pretty epic. I loved both characters, despite the fact that this is NA–and very much NA, as the protagonists are both still in college. The novel starts on ‘move-in day’ in a fictional Ivy League college in Connecticut, from the point of view of our heroine, Corey.
It took me about three pages to be hopelessly into the story, Corey’s stupid ‘hope fairy’ be damned. By the time we met Hartley, half way through the first chapter, I was already all the way into the book, and I didn’t surface until the very last page.
Here’s the blurb, from the author’s website:
The sport she loves is out of reach. And the boy she loves has someone else. What now?
She expected to start Harkness College as a varsity ice hockey player. But a serious accident means that Corey Callahan will start school in a wheelchair instead.
Across the hall, in the other handicapped-accessible dorm room, lives the too-delicious-to-be real Adam Hartley, another would-be hockey star with his leg broken in two places. He’s way out of Corey’s league.
Also, he’s taken.
Nevertheless, an unlikely alliance blooms between Corey and Hartley in the “gimp ghetto” of McHerrin Hall. Over tequila, perilously balanced dining hall trays, and video games, the two cope with disappointments that nobody else understands.
They’re just friends, of course, until one night when things fall apart. Or fall together. All Corey knows is that she’s falling. Hard.
But will Hartley set aside his trophy girl to love someone as broken as Corey? If he won’t, she will need to find the courage to make a life for herself at Harkness — one which does not revolve around the sport she can no longer play, or the brown-eyed boy who’s afraid to love her back.
Call me whatever you like–you’ll be right at least part of the time–but I don’t go out of my way to read books that challenge me or make me uncomfortable. I read strictly for pleasure, and I don’t care who finds that objectionable, or shallow, or what have you.
However, it does mean that I haven’t read all that many books where one of the main characters has a permanent disability. It was wonderful to read a story in which, while it plays a very important part on the character’s growth as a person, it wasn’t by any means the one thing that defined her.
Corey had a truly freakish ice hockey accident during her senior year in high school, which landed her in a wheelchair. Most people–and young, promising athletes even more so–would probably take a long time to come to terms with such a drastic change in circumstances.
Corey is doing better than most people, from what I–as an able bodied person–can tell, though there are times when the utter unfairness of it all does get to her. Still, she manages not to take out her frustrations on random people around her.
I never dreamed I’d show up for college in a wheelchair. Some people say that after a life-threatening event, they learn to enjoy life more. That they stop taking everything for granted.
Sometimes I felt like punching those people.
But today I understood. The September sun was warm, and my roommate was as friendly in person as she was over email. And I was breathing. So I had better learn to appreciate it.
Then there’s Hartley–his first name is hardly ever used, by the way. This is a kid who hasn’t had an easy life. Yes, his present seems charmed. Accomplished athlete, smart, decent and sweet, but Hartley has worked for every advantage he currently enjoys, and faced plenty of challenges, to get where he is as the book starts.
When they meet, they connect immediately. As the blurb says, they share several things that no one else around, or close to, them understand. They are instantly friendly, but soon become friends in the best sense of the word.
Eventually, Hartley realizes that he’s as attracted to Corey as she is to him, and things between them change, though perhaps not necessarily for the better.
Because Hartley has a girlfriend, and just because she’s spending the semester abroad–and likely sleeping around on him–doesn’t mean Corey deserves to be anyone’s second choice, let alone his. (Not, mind you, that she’s going to let anyone, from Hartley on down, put her there, either.)
There are many, many wonderful things about this novel. The friendship and the romance between the two leads develops slowly and realistically. Yeah, Corey is in lust with Hartley before he truly notices that she’s female and that he’s attracted to her. But she’s not an idiot and doesn’t fancy herself in love with the handsome face and hot body.
It is as they get to know each other that her feelings deepen and his develop, and that is so sweet to witness. From her ferrying their food at lunch to him teaching her how to play RealStix, there are so many wonderful interactions between them. Some are quiet, some are intense, all tell of the evolution of their relationship. Those tequila shots, Hartley’s gift to her, Corey’s birthday present to him, his reaction when she doesn’t show up for the class they had scheduled together, these are all great.
Just as it’s wonderful to see Corey pull up her metaphorical socks and draw her line in the sand, taking yet another step into her future, standing on her own as it were. And then to see how this serves to kick Hartley’s ass into gear, giving him the impetus to face his own issues and do some more growing up…
Mind you, I’m sure there are readers who’ll find these two characters too nice/too mature/too perfect from the beginning of the novel, and won’t perceive significant change in the course of the story. I disagree. Just because the angst doesn’t choke me every other page, it doesn’t mean what happens is insignificant.
I really liked the secondary characters. Dana, Bridger, Daniel, Stacia, Fairfax. There is not a lot of detail about them cluttering this story, but what there is, is enough to see them as more than stereotypes. Dana is a great roommate to Corey, but she’s not just the peppy sidekick. Stacia is the high maintenance girlfriend we all want Hartley to ditch…until the very last scene. Bridger is your typical horndog jock…who happens to be getting a double major, at an Ivy League school, with honors.
Even Hartley’s mom–who absolutely rocks, by the by–and Corey’s parents, the three of whom have very little actual page time, come across as individual people. It’s so cool to see how, with distance and growing maturity, these young people see their parents in a different, perhaps a bit clearer light.
There are ties between these people and Corey and Hartley, and between each other, and these ties feel real. They are not just supporting cast, or there to serve as prop/background to this one story. There are many brief moments, subtle things that bring all these people alive.
And I giggled so much over the chapter titles. It may seem a silly conceit, but honestly, if you pay attention as you read them, you’ll at least smile over them.
One thing that did get old for me very quickly was Corey’s ‘hope fairy’ By the time Corey puts ‘a tiny piece of duct tape and slapped it over her tiny lips,’ I was more than ready to throat punch the whole concept.
There is so much to like about this novel, that it’s hard not to just gush and gush–and spoil the hell out of it. Which I’d rather not do, because I honestly think more people should read this book, and the whole series. Suffice it to say that, even with all the obstacles they still face, individually and as a couple, and even though they are so painfully young, I finished the novel believing Corey and Hartley have a really good chance to have a happy, long term relationship.
The Year We Fell Down gets a 9.25 out of 10