Tuesday, October 4, 2011

The Secret Year- Jennifer Hubbard

This is not a love song.
Sure, Julia was a girl from the privileged part of town, and Colt was a boy from the not so privileged part of town, and yes, they did spend a year secretly meeting each other by the river for various trysts.  But Julia had a boyfriend, another privileged sort, and she wasn't in love with either.
Then, she goes off and dies in a car accident.

Colt can hardly believe it, but who can he talk to about it?  Nobody knows they knew each other.

There really isn't much romance in these typical teenagers' lives.  It's not like so many YA love stories in which they meet their immortal soul mate.  Their relationships are molded by lust, hatred, greed, cruelty, angst, and confusion.

Julia's brother discovers a notebook Julia wrote in.  In every entry, she wrote to Colt, but he never knew it existed.  So her brother passes it on to him to help him come to terms with her death.

While the characters were realistic, I didn't particularly like them.  Of course, I don't like most real people; I think they fall short by my standards.  But it is nice to see a book written about believable teens.  And sometimes their normality and issues made me laugh out loud.

To me, the underlying theme of this book seemed to be that high school doesn't matter.  Once you get to the world outside high school, no one really cares what part of town you're from.  No one cares who you dated.  And the girl who died?  Well, after high school, she'll fade away as well.

But there are still many similarities between the real world and high school.  There will always be people who think they can do anything they want because they have money.  There will always be people who don't fit in.  There will always be people who feel like they're trod upon everyday and can't understand why.

Colt was pretty average.  He thought he loved this beautiful girl, but he knew she would be ashamed of him.  She couldn't take him to the Country Club; he doesn't belong there, and she has to have someone to take, even though she doesn't like her boyfriend much.  She loved having their secret affair; she got a thrill out of it, but whether there was any love involved is kind of hard to say.

One thing I did not like about this book was that no one seemed to be defined by their interests, their talents, their intelligence, or their personalities.  It was basically 1. you live in a mansion on Black Mountain; 2. you live in substandard housing in the flats, or 3. (and there was only one of these) you live sort of in between so apparently this gives you an identity crisis.  The entire system was based purely upon where you lived.  Now, I knew some snotty stuck up wealthy kids in school, and I knew some poor kids who were made fun of for being poor, but there was generally at least a little more to it than that.  Just because you were poor does not mean you like to sit on your back porch shooting targets.  Being wealthy does mean you go off to the Country Club every weekend.  Except for their environments these kids were pretty much the same.  They never noticed how much alike they were because they were so wrapped up in their demographics.  You switch a Black Mountain baby and a flats baby at birth, they'd be the same.  But the one who was supposed to be in the flats would just go to the Country Club instead  of shooting in the backyard and vice versa. 

This is definitely the sort of book aimed more toward older teens based on the subject matter.  They all have sex.  Those girls take their bras off right quick and those guys are rearing to go at any moment.

There is also a delightful scene in which Colt's brother reveals his homosexuality and his parents go temporarily insane. "Don't you know what those guys do to each other?!" asks the father.

Colt's brother, Tom, was one of the few reasonable voices in the story. Sure, he's gay, he's only a freshman in college, but he actually had a personality.  He wasn't an "oh I'm gay, let me flit around like a sparkle pony and wear lip gloss" type of gay character.  He was just a reasonably intelligent young man who found out that in the real world, you could be who you are and not be defined by where you lived.

The book did not end with Colt saying "Yes!  I am over Julia!  I am in love with whoever!  Now I can be happy again!" but the secret does get out.

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