Saturday 6 February 2016

#CBR8 Book 7: "The Year We Hid Away" by Sarina Bowen

Page count: 274 pages
Rating: 5 stars

Having spent the previous year pretty much focused on hockey and dating as many different women as possible, Bridger Macaulley's life drastically changes when he realises that his dead-beat mother isn't just doing drugs anymore, but that she's now part of a gang that actually cooks meths at home. He takes his seven-year-old little sister Lucy out of there and hides her in his dorm room, while spending every available moment while she's at school taking a double course load so he can graduate faster or working a part-time job to make money so they can afford somewhere to stay outside of term. He knows he has friends who would drop everything to help him, but as he's breaking several college rules, he doesn't want to involve anyone else in his illegal activities or forcing his burden onto someone else. Every spare minute he has when Lucy isn't in school is spent taking care of her. He certainly doesn't have time to date, but when he meets the intriguing Scarlet, he just can't seem to keep away from her.

Scarlet is keeping secrets of her own. She legally changed her name the summer before she went to Harkness college and had to sneak past news vans camped out outside her home to get away to school. With her high profile hockey-coach and philanthropist father accused of some truly horrible and unfathomable crimes, Scarlet sees no other option but to lie through her teeth about who she really is and who her family are. Having suffered a whole year as a pariah in her final year of high school due to the accusations against her dad, she just wants to create a new life for herself, away from the demands of her parents, her father's bodyguards and lawyers, the prosecution and the press. Accepted to Harkness on a hockey scholarship, Scarlet doesn't feel she can play the sport she so loves, in case someone connects her skill to the life she's trying to escape. She hates that she has to lie to her roommates, her new friends and especially the gorgeous Bridger, who she shares two classes with each day, but she also knows that if the truth comes out, she'll be as ostracised at Harkness as she was in high school.

Two people with burdens far heavier than anyone starting out in life should be expected to carry, trying so hard to get through the days through a filter of lies, and finding solace in the company of each other. Neither Bridger nor Scarlet are looking for love, but they grow ever closer and find that the suck that is their life gets a little bit easier to bear when they are close to the other. Bridger has very little free time to spend outside classes or work, but the lectures he spends in the company of Scarlet and the lunches they're able to have together gives him something to focus on other than the constant fear that someone will discover the truth about his family situation and either force him to return his sister to his unfit mother or worse, have her placed in foster care. Scarlet tries desperately not to think too much about her father's case and whether or not the accusations against him are actually true. Her parents and her father's unscrupulous bodyguard want her to return home to speak to her father's lawyers, while warning her away from the DA's people. Scarlet doesn't want to even think about the case and can't see what she could probably say that could help the defence or the prosecution either way. She hates that she has to lie to everyone, but especially Bridger.

There is so much pain and angst in this book and some ridiculously dramatic things happening to these young people, and yet Bowen makes it not only believable, but completely engrossing. Bridger may be the NA equivalent of a reformed rake, he used to be all about the partying and ladies, whilst now he's all about taking care of his family and doing his best to secure his and his little sister's future. Scarlet is a victim of circumstances so horrible I actually cringed while reading. I can't imagine having to be in her position and was amazed at how well she actually dealt with circumstances. I felt such strong empathy for both characters and could barely put the book down.

Neither protagonist is free to speak openly and honestly to the other, which leads to some complications and occasionally unnecessary drama and there were occurrences of some of my least favourite plot hurdles - the "I must drive away the person I love most in the world because I will make their life worse/they're unsafe with me/better off without me", but luckily none of that got too excessive and was resolved relatively quickly, allowing me to still love the book. Some of the ways in which Bridger's and Scarlet's troubles were resolved towards the end of the book were possibly a bit too convenient and neat, but romances are all about getting to the happy ending, so I'll allow it.

The Year We Fell Down was a really good book. The Year We Hid Away was even better, even though the amount of pain and angst at certain parts of the story just made me want to curl up and cringe. I'm so glad I finally got round to reading these. Thanks again to Mrs. Julien for sending me the Amazon gift card that enabled me to buy it.

Crossposted on Cannonball Read.

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