When I first heard about Jennifer Hubbard’s debut novel, The Secret Year, both the title and cover snagged me from the get-go. Like a child waiting for Santa Claus on Christmas Eve, I became antsy, impatiently waiting for its release date.
The story revolves around Colt, a seventeen-year-old, who sneaks out in the middle of the night to meet Julia, a girl who lives in upper-class suburbia. They tell no one—but especially not Julia’s boyfriend—about their relationship. What starts as a casual friendship blossoms into a deeper love beyond what either of them wants.
The beginning of the novel starts with Julia dying suddenly. Colt struggles to cope with her death while simultaneously pretending that he never knew her—until he is given her diary. Will Colt be prepared for what revelations are stored within? More importantly, will he regret acting as if Julia meant nothing to him at all?
I wanted to pull my hair out when I dived into this story. It’s torturous sympathizing with someone like Colt because he can’t grieve properly. I didn’t know whether I wanted to slap him, shake him silly, or hug him. He can’t move on. He doesn’t know how to be happy. This is clearly indicated with the tense relationship he has with Kirby, who says that she can’t compete with a dead girl.
The reader is immersed in Colt’s desperation. Like him, I kept hoping that maybe Julia would magically appear on the next page laughing. I imagined she’d say, “Did you miss me much?” It can’t possibly happen, of course. Colt’s reliving—almost obsessively so—of that year with Julia is palpable and dreadful enough to compel the reader to yearn for it nonetheless.
I debated with myself whether Julia’s secret diary detracted or contributed to story because it did both. I craved to learn everything about Julia. Her poetry was provocative and electrifying, her voice distinct, assertive, and sassy. It left me thirsting for more. In the end, however, I still didn’t know much about her except that despite her spunky, rebellious exterior, she was still an indecisive, confused girl in turmoil over two boys. She loved one in secret and was too afraid to leave the other. While I was dismayed that there were few excerpts from Julia’s diary, at the same time, I think it puts the realism into Colt’s anguish. How can you fall in love with someone you barely know? It seems almost purposeful.
Jennifer Hubbard did an amazing job with the ending. It’s perfect, subtle, bittersweet, and poignant. There is no hero and heroine riding off into the sunset to live happily ever after.
This novel grips your heart and rips it out ruthlessly, bleeding. Jennifer Hubbard is an astounding author and I can only imagine the possibilities of what awaits readers with her next novel.
If this book is not on your list, it should be. It can be purchased at a local Barnes and Noble, like the one at Mayfair or from the local library.