Rating: 4.75 stars
Buy Link: Amazon | All Romance
Happily celebrating their two-year anniversary, Alex and Simon are now in their sophomore year at school and their hockey careers are going well. Not surprisingly, Simon still has nightmares from when he was kidnapped and held captive by his father, as well as about best friend Jackson’s death at the hands of his brother Zack.
The boys are adapting to life at college, meeting new people, experiencing new activities, and finally living busy, but balanced, lives. Simon and Alex’s love for each other has grown and is stronger than ever. Simon changed his major and is now taking social work and is doing a work placement at an LGBT community centre. Due to the number of LGBT students being ambushed and beaten when traveling across campus, Simon comes up with a buddy system volunteer program for the school.
Part way through the hockey season, Simon’s father has a bad stroke and asks to see Simon, putting Simon in an incredibly difficult position. It turns out that Simon’s father wants to apologize and admits he was wrong to treat Simon so badly for so many years. Simon needs time to process this latest revelation, and, before he can consider accepting the apology, Simon finds out that his father has passed away.
At the funeral Simon sees his brother Zack, released from prison for the day to attend the funeral. Zack has learned a lot while in prison and wishes to reconcile with Simon. Simon appears ready to walk the path of forgiveness, but Alex cannot forgive Zack for Jackson’s death and his own brutal beating at the hands of Zack and his gang.
Simon is confused about rekindling his relationship with Zack. Their turbulent history leaves Simon with serious misgivings and Alex’s anger towards Zack does not help matters. When an incident at a party is quickly followed by another brutal attack against the LGBT community, the boys realize that in order to move forward, they need to make peace with the past.
I was captivated by Simon and Alex in Hat Trick and was so happy to see them again. Playing the Rebound was written in Simon’s POV, which was very effective as the story truly revolved around him as an individual. Simon showed some real growth as a character and exhibited very realistic behavior, such as when he changed his major or finding out about his father’s death. I believed that the emotions and motivation were real.
We also got to see the normalcy of Simon and Alex’s now established relationship, and how the boys have taken the physical aspect of their relationship to a new level from their high school days. Is the sex age appropriate? Absolutely. The sex is not explicit but we can certainly tell that they have grown up and are now college students, and the descriptions of their intimate moments were beautifully written.
I was also impressed when Simon admitted that he has been holding anger toward his father and Zack inside. This was refreshing to me because it showed yet another layer in Simon’s psyche, yet again showing that he is only human. I also liked that these young men understand and put into practice good communication skills, not something I can say for most books I read but perfectly logical for these guys.
It hasn’t been long since I read Hat Trick and yet I found myself trying to remember some characters referred to from high school but not put into context, such as Leo and his family. It took most of the book before I had enough references to recall that he was the high school hockey team captain and good friend. The flow was maintained by the use of time skips. Inconsequential parts are left out, which ensured that the important stuff was addressed, and this kept the pace of the story consistent and smooth.
As a part of his work placement, Simon learns to do LGBT speeches and is invited to a local high school. The ensuing assembly was too funny and was a great demonstration of how secondary characters came and went during the story which solidified my world view.
I really enjoyed the Hat Trick books, including the free short story Hat Trick Overtime, A Classic Winter’s Night. The story of Simon and Alex was compelling and well thought out, had good depth and characters that I could relate to, even if I am not a hockey fan. Although some of the situations may have been a bit extreme to me, the reality is that high school students from all walks of life have fears and apprehension about coming out, and these books help to show that it does get better, and there are support structures in place to help. A definite must read series, in my opinion.