I’ve had the great job of reviewing books that feature gay hockey players PuckBuddys since the fall of 2012. I can truly say every book I’ve presented here is one that I’ve loved, whether it’s a sweet romance, a coming out tale or a wildly fun story about a vampire hockey league. The Understatement of the Year by Sarina Bowen is not only a book that I love, it’s a book that grabbed hold of me and wouldn’t let go.
I read this book during a trip to Alabama to watch the Alabama/Auburn Iron Cup tournament in January. I started it during the plane trip and over the course of the weekend I ended up taking my iPad to the rink so I could read before the games started and during intermissions. Finally, I was late to dinner the last night I was there because I was so near the end and I had to finish it. I cried more than once reading it, too, because there are some passages that pull on the heart.
Understatement is the third installment of Bowen’s Ivy Years series, but you don’t need to read the others to start this one (she confirms that fact in the interview coming up). The book focuses on Michael Graham and John Rikker. They were high school best friends, and secret lovers. One night they were out together and were jumped by homophobes. Rikker was beaten badly and Graham ran away. They never saw each other after that… until Rikker showed up at Harkness College as a walk-on to the school’s hockey team. Rikker was kicked out of his other college because he was gay. Harkness, however, was all about You Can Play and the coach was happy to bring him on because they had an opening.
Graham, however, is less than thrilled to see him. While Rikker had long since healed from the physical wounds, along with a lot of the psychological damage the attack caused, Graham relives the attacks nearly every night. And he’s crafted a facade around being straight because of what he’d seen happen to Rikker. That facade starts to crack the moment Rikker shows up.
Bowen alternates chapters between Rikker and Graham’s point of view so we’re right in their heads as the hockey season gets under way. It’s the perfect way to tell this story as they deal with interacting with each other, their teammates and Bella, the team’s incredible team manager. Everything isn’t school and hockey either, there are great glimpses at friends and family for both guys.
It’s difficult to discuss much about this book because I feel it’s important for readers to dive in and experience the powerful story without knowing too much. The unfolding of the tale is delightful. I do, however, want to offer up a couple passages to help illustrate Bowen’s great prose.
This is from Graham, as he describes how he ended up building his facade after the attack: “Before that awful day, naïveté had made me far too content. I’d never realized just how dangerous it was to be with Rikker. I knew we could never tell anyone. That went without saying. But I’d never been forced to witness what would happen if people knew. I hadn’t understood the sheer repulsion that I’d somehow earned by loving another boy.”
Now from Rikker, as he takes a shower in his new locker room, knowing some of his teammates don’t like it: “People like Big-D have it wrong. They think that the gay guy is going to be the one who’s slowly soaping up his dick, watching you shampoo. But that’s not how it works in a varsity locker room on planet Earth. The gay guy is the one who discreetly goes about his business, showering quickly and then getting the hell out of there. He puts his underwear on when his skin is still damp, even though it will stick up his ass crack the rest of the night.”
I also want to share a quote. I’m not going to attribute it to a character as I don’t want to give up too much detail, but it’s one of the book’s most important quotes: “Every time you move a person into the truth column, breathing gets a little easier, right?”
Beyond writing great character stuff, Bowen also does some excellent hockey scenes. The game scenes are fast paced, and also, occasionally, cringe-worthy.
I hope you’ll take the leap and try out Understatement of the Year. This is among the very best books that I’ve read in the past twelve months, hockey related or not.
Interview with Sarina Bowen
I enjoyed finding out a little bit more about Bowen in the interview. Here’s a glimpse at the author behind Understatement of the Year. Continue reading