It’s been five years since Michael Graham has seen John Rikker, his best friend and first love. After one afternoon that ended in violence and shame, Graham never reached out to Rikker. Graham now lives in the shadows, as he hides his true sexual identity from everyone, including himself.
Shocked is an understatement to describe how Graham feels when Rikker walks into his college hockey locker room. As the new team player, Rikker has Graham feeling so many conflicting emotions, mostly pure panic, and drinking to excess is his way of coping. Graham knows it will only take one word from Rikker to expose his true self.
Rikker will never get used to being the new player. After being kicked out of his house when his parents found out he was gay, he lived with his grandmother and started over. He was outed to his former hockey coach who promptly kicked him off the team for being gay and he finds himself starting over once again. This time though it’s public, as the media has attached itself to the story of the only out player in Division One hockey. Rikker never had any intention of being a media poster boy, he just wants to play hockey. He’s not happy about it and some of his team mates certainly do not want to deal with having a gay player on the team.
Rikker did not even know what to expect when he saw Graham, but Graham will not even look at him, let alone say one word to him. With the pressures of hockey, school, and having to face each other almost daily, the guys will either self destruct or possibly find the long way back to each other.
This book is the third book in The Ivy Years series and it is the first M/M book in the series. I have not read the other two books and did not feel like I was missing anything, as the other books focus on other characters. This book can absolutely be read as a stand alone. This story is quite the emotional read on many different levels. It’s the story of true first love coupled with hate crime and taking a beating again and again, literally and figuratively, due to sexual identity, and for Graham, the self loathing and fear of being able to embrace who he is.
Graham and Rikker meet in 7th grade Spanish class in a Catholic school and become instant friends. This part of the story is told in brief flashbacks. The author does an entertaining job of describing their initial conversations as they are paired up for level one conversational Spanish. Anyone that has taken basic Spanish can relate to this and it was great. When the guys do start talking again years later, they address each other in basic Spanish as a throwback to their initial connection and it was well done and funny at times. We see how their relationship grew through high school and the lengths they had to take to cover up their attraction from everyone growing up in religious households. The very first time they are in public and share just a kiss, that kiss violently changes both of their lives.
Told from both POVs, we get a good sense of both Rikker and Graham. It is difficult to fully like Graham at first as we do not know all of his motivation and he just seems like he is a bad friend who only cares about himself. He can’t even address Rikker as a friend or a team mate. He is scared of everything. He is scared of anyone thinking he might be gay and he carries a tremendous amount of guilt over what happened with Rikker. He dresses in basic colors and will not even try a cappuccino since someone once said girls like to drink it. He finally realizes one day that he does not even know how he likes his coffee because he is trying so hard just to blend in, which also means dating girls.
Rikker, man, just about every time someone finds out he is gay there is a traumatic experience attached to it. It is hard to watch him being physically and verbally attacked in a variety of ways from both adults and peers. There is a lot of trauma, a lot of drama, and it really does not get any lighter all the way through. It’s a very sad state of affairs that this guy has to deal with so much all because he dates men. The story is really a character study of the long lasting effects of violence and not dealing with major traumas.
There is some back and forth between them and questions about whether Graham will ever come to terms with who he is. Graham has never been shown anything positive about coming out and his fears are justified. Rikker is just so in love with Graham that he takes pretty much whatever attention Graham will give him. When they do get together, while it’s hot (very hot), sure, but that’s not even what it is all about. It is so incredibly emotional to see these guys come together. This scene, however, was told from Rikker’s POV. While I certainly wanted to see his take on it, some perspective from Graham was missing for me. He agrees it was a long time coming, but I wanted to be in his head a bit to see why this particular moment and what changes for him.
While Rikker’s parents kicked him out, Graham’s parents are way more supportive. The one area that I questioned was when the guys were back in high school and Rikker moved away, Graham spent months in his room and his parents knew something was going on but never spoke to him about it. He was 16 and was left to deal with a whole lot on his own because he never told any one what happened and his parents left him alone. More direct involvement from his parents would have saved Graham a whole lot of self loathing and basic terror over being who he is.
The secondary characters are well rounded out, if a bit stereotypical, with the hockey captain that is supportive and other team members that are not. Graham’s friend and some time hook up Bella plays a role here, but her actions were not to my liking all of the time as she is pretty self-centered and she is not as supportive as she wants everyone to believe.
The journey of both Graham and Rikker is an emotional lovers reunited story that is well written, full of hockey action, and a full self discovery of emotion. I would be interested to see how they sustain their relationship as their time fully together only happened toward the end. It is one story that I would recommend that you read.