What it’s about: (from Goodreads) She’s hiding something big. He’s hiding someone small.
Scarlet Crowley’s life was torn apart the day father was arrested for unspeakable crimes. Now the shock has worn off, but not the horror.
It’s a safe bet that Scarlet is the only first year at Harkness College who had to sneak past TV news trucks parked on her front lawn just to leave town. But college will be Scarlet’s fresh start. Clutching a shiny new student ID — with a newly minted name on it — she leaves it all behind. Even if it means lying to the boy she’s falling for.
Bridger McCaulley is a varsity hockey star known for being a player both on and off the ice. But a sobering family crisis takes that all away. Protecting his sister means a precarious living arrangement and constant deception. The only bright spot in his week is the few stolen hours he spends with Scarlet.
The two form a tentative relationship based on the understanding that some things must always be held back. But when grim developments threaten them both, going it alone just won’t work anymore. And if they can’t learn to trust one another now, the families who let them down will take everything they’ve struggled to keep.
*Warning: Mild spoilers for The Year We Fell Down*
What worked for me (and what didn’t): I didn’t think it would happen that I would like the second book better than the first, but it did. Anecdotally, those who enjoyed the first book definitely enjoyed the second as well, although it seems like a 50/50 split as to which was the favourite. The point may be moot anyway, because there’s not a huge difference between “really good” and “really really good”. Both gave me the happy book sigh and both had me glued to the pages.
Bridger McCaulley appeared in The Year We Fell Down but he didn’t feel like merely sequel bait there. (I do admit that for some reason I thought Bridger was his last name until I read this book). He’s a bit of a dawg in the first story but my sense was that he didn’t make promises he couldn’t keep either. If a guy wants to have a lot of hook ups and the girls he hooks up with know the score, then no harm, no foul IMO. I also knew that he’s super smart – he’s doing both a bachelor’s degree and a master’s degree at the same time. In addition, he plays ice hockey and works part time because he doesn’t come from money. And, he has a little sister, 13 years his junior, he adores. Oh, and his mum is a crack addict.
By the time The Year We Hid Away begins, life has become even more challenging for Bridger. Things at home have become so bad, he felt he had no choice but to remove Lucy (his sister) from their mother’s orbit (it is telling she never did so much as enquire after Lucy’s wellbeing following this) and they’ve been sharing his dorm room. Except it’s all very secret because Bridge isn’t allowed to have Lucy there and he doesn’t have legal custody. He does not want to get Child Protective Services involved at all, for fear that Lucy will end up in foster care. So, Bridge has quit the hockey team and taken as many hours as he can at his part time jobs and between that and study, all the rest of his time is spent looking after Lucy. What is so wonderful about him (even though if I think about it too hard perhaps it is also a little on the unrealistic side) is that he never resents Lucy. He is a caring and devoted brother – he in fact has been more of a parent to her since their father died and their mother went off the rails as a result. He does resent the hell out of his mother. Which, of course.
Bridge is aware that his life is basically a flimsy house of cards and the slightest change could knock it all down. He wants to look after Lucy. He wants to stay in school and get his degree and he has 18 months to go. What are the chances he can keep Lucy under wraps until then?
There is relief from the drama on Tuesdays and Thursdays during Statistics and Music Theory classes – because Scarlet Crowley is there. Scarlet is a freshman at Harkness and she has her own drama. She has recently (legally) changed her name from Shannon Ellison. JP Ellison, her Stanley Cup MVP, hockey coach/icon father has been indicted for multiple counts of child sex offenses. Shannon was a pariah in her town and spent her senior year of high school isolated from all but one friend who didn’t bail on her. She hopes to escape the limelight and drama that is her life by changing her name and starting college. At Harkness she can be somebody else and judged not for her father’s sins but on her own merits. Very believably, Scarlet feels conflicted about her father’s indictment. She is almost sure he’s guilty but if that’s the case, why didn’t she know? How did she not know? These things haunt her. I suppose it hits uncomfortably close to the Penn State sex abuse case but I thought the take on it – being from Scarlet’s perspective, was an interesting one.
Scarlet’s mother is a bit of a caricature; she is all about appearances and there seems little to their relationship beyond that. It seems that Mrs. Ellison’s main goal in supporting her husband is to maintain their lifestyle. It doesn’t appear she cares all that much about whether or not he’s guilty. Scarlet’s relationship with her dad has never been great. He ignores her apart from ice hockey. If she played well (she’s a goalie) she might get some faint praise. If there were many goals scored against her, he would yell and be the worst kind of sideline parent. To add to all that fun, Scarlet’s house has had media parked on their lawn for over a year. For all of those reasons, Scarlet just wants to get away.
When Bridger and Scarlet meet in class – she could use his help in Statistics and he could use hers in Music Theory – they start having lunch and studying together. They only see each other twice a week because Bridger has no more time than that but those small spaces quickly become highlights for both of them and gradually they deepen their friendship into more. The romance is sweet and sexy. Most of the conflict is external, but there is a lot of it. Between them as a couple though, things are good. After a while, Bridge lets Scarlet in on his secret. He’s told no-one else, not even Hartley (for reasons which make sense in the context of the story). When Scarlet’s family starts making demands on her to testify at the trial things become more fraught for her and, of course, the truth comes out. Then, the crap hits the fan on all sides and they have to learn to get help from others and to trust that they are better together than apart to get their HFN.
I say HFN because while the ending is happy and there has been an exchange of “I love you” (again I thought it was a little fast but this might be my age and natural caution showing), they are both still in college and very young, so HEA seems like a bit of a stretch. What I liked about the happy ending was that it was clear that Scarlet had interests outside of Bridge and Lucy and she wasn’t a de facto mother for the child. The parental role was all Bridger’s and I felt that with them both pursuing things independent of each other and widening their circle of friends, they would have a better chance of going the distance. It felt grown up and smart.
What else? Sure, there’s a fairy tale aspect to the ending (in some respects) and there are some coincidences and revelations (mostly in relation to Scarlet’s family) that stretched my credulity a little but I was so taken by this couple I didn’t care. I enjoyed getting to know them and I liked them. I wanted them to be happy and to catch a break so I didn’t mind a bit of magic wand waving. (Not that kind of magic wand – mind out of the gutter readers!!).
The writing style is engaging and easy to read. I enjoyed the dual/alternating first person POV and the depth of the characterisations. Once again the sex scenes were relatively sparing but also very well done. Scarlet and Bridge spend a lot of time together and there is a good amount of dialogue. When things get complicated and they are apart, it is mercifully brief. This is my favourite kind of book – lots and lots of the h/h together – and I basically lapped it up with a spoon.