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Estelle: The Secret Year by Jennifer Hubbard

The Secret Year by Jennifer R. Hubbard
Publication Date: January 7, 2010
Publisher: Viking Juvenile
Pages: 192
Target audience: Mature young adult
Keywords: Secret relationship, cheating, death, class division

Summary: For the past year, Colt and Julia have been secretly “together”. Total opposites and part of different groups at school, Julia also has a boyfriend at the same time. Before the next school year begins, Julia is killed in a car accident and Colt is given a journal marked with his initials from her brother. What will he discover in these pages about Julia, her feelings, and, perhaps, his own?

While there are a lot of young adult books that cover cheating, I was mostly intrigued by this one because it was hard for me to imagine how two people could maintain a secret relationship for a year without anyone finding out. I could understand a few months, but an entire year? That involves a lot of lying, a lot of pretending, and the growth of feelings between the two — I would think, right? How could you engage in an affair like this for so long and not feel something? Not want something more?

To add a whole new layer, Julia dies after a big fight with Colt — one we don’t find out the details about until quite a bit into the book. Colt gets this journal from Julia’s brother and discovers she had been writing to him about everything. Not just how connected she feels to him but about her fears for school and her relationship with her boyfriend, who is kind of the big man on campus/a total tool. She wants to break up with him, she doesn’t think she can break up with him — you know the drill. What’s most fascinating is how non-chalant Colt is about their whole relationship. He plays the whole thing very cool and it’s only when he gets the journal and starts reading, he begins to realize just how into Julia he was.

Beware, The Secret Year is extremely fast-paced and you will have a tough time putting it down. (I finished it in a night.) Just when you think Colt has steered clear of the consequences regarding sleeping with another guy’s girlfriend for a year… he hasn’t. I don’t want to give anything away but his association with Julia is deepened by the ongoing rivarly between the upper and lower classes in this small town. There’s bullying, pranking, and general bullshit behavior going on all over the place and Colt finds himself at a crossroad many times when it comes to this situation.

I’ve read that this book is Romeo & Juliet + The Outsiders, and while I can see some similarities to those two literary works, I don’t think it’s an entirely accurate description. This is not about two people who fall lustfully and selfishly in love with each other, nor does it entirely focus on the social class conflict. Instead, this book is about a boy, who doesn’t come from the happiest of families, as he comes to grips with his own actions and what could have been. It’s this strange yet well-done glimpse into grief and what it takes to move on from several types of situations.

This is a difficult book to read… not for any other reason because the small flashbacks we get of Colt and Julia made me want their ending to turn out differently. The tension, the attraction, the frustration… it was all so vivid. People make mistakes sometimes because they go with their gut. That might sound like an excuse but I appreciated that Hubbard presented that perspective in The Secret Year, and her seamless ability to take what could have turned into a drama fest and give us a realistic and multi-layered story.

It definitely made a Hubbard fan out of me.

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July 12, 2014 - 2:21 am

Kayla - This is a great summary

January 21, 2013 - 4:15 pm

Hannah @ So Obsessed With - Eeek Estelle, I don’t really like cheating books! I mean, yes I have read some (Emily Giffin comes to mind), but I have a hard time getting really into the story. I just don’t know! You’ve made it sound really interesting though!

January 20, 2013 - 5:11 pm

Estelle's Shelve It: 1/20/2013 - […] A bookish (sorta?) birthday list. A review of Take Me There by Carolee Dean. A review of Return to Me by Justina Chen. A review of The Secret Year by Jennifer Hubbard. […]

January 16, 2013 - 7:15 am

Lori - Beautiful review, Estelle! I read this a few years ago when I first started getting into contemporary and it blew me away. I’m not sure that I would love it as much now, but it was definitely a fantastic book.

January 16, 2013 - 4:27 am

VeganYANerds - Ooh, this sounds really good, Estelle! I too wonder about how you’d hide a relationship for so long, but then again there are people that cheat for a long time, right? Maybe they’re just in denial of their feelings?

I really want to know what happens with Colt and the journal, this whole idea is so intriguing!

January 15, 2013 - 5:20 pm

Alexa Y. - Wow. Just wow. This one sounds completely intense. And it also made me very curious as to how it really worked out that they kept everything secret for a YEAR (and yes, I’m still hung up on that fact!). I do like the idea of Cole coming to terms with his feelings, though it makes me sad that Julia died before he really did. ACK. You make me want to go and find this book now…

January 14, 2013 - 11:03 pm

Estelle - A, oh! Thanks for the awesome comment! Yes! This one did pack the punch and I was really surprised by all the underlying complexities in the plot too. I thought the author did a great job of flushing all the details out and giving us a strong book! I do hope you try it out and let me know what you think about it afterwards.

January 14, 2013 - 11:02 pm

Aneeqah @ My Not So Real Life - So this one is REALLY short- under 200 pages. I’m surprised that it was able to pack such a punch with you, Estelle! Normally I finish shorter books thinking that there wasn’t enough depth- but that definitely doesn’t seem to be the case here. I actually have read a few cheating books, and it’s interesting to see the story behind them. I’d think I’d love this one, since it’s so vivid and it seems to have all the feels.

Fabulous review Estelle, this book is now officially on my radar! <3

January 14, 2013 - 10:51 pm

Estelle - Cheating is a tough subject for some people to read about… I don’t want to give anything away but I think the plotting and character development is really strong in this novel and that should be the reason to check it out!

January 14, 2013 - 10:51 pm

Estelle - It’s actually Estelle but I love that you stopped by to comment. I’m hoping to start a surge with people reading this again!

January 14, 2013 - 10:49 pm

Estelle - Kristen, yay! Glad to hear you are going to give it a whirl. I love that you are always open to trying new books.

January 14, 2013 - 10:49 pm

Estelle - Cynthia, truly hoping you like this one as much as I did. So nice that you have it already there waiting for ya!

January 14, 2013 - 10:48 pm

Estelle - Nikki, I’m also one that doesn’t shy away from cheating stories. I always think there is a reason why people go ahead with decisions like this one. It may not be smart or selfless but it’s still intriguing to see what people think is worth giving up and why. Thanks for stopping by and commenting!

January 14, 2013 - 10:47 pm

Estelle - Thanks so much, Joli! I hope so too!!!! It really was an immersive read + that’s impressive because it’s a short book!

January 14, 2013 - 10:26 pm

Joli @ Actin' Up with Books - Your review reminds me of why I liked this book so much and why I must reread it again soon. I was immersed in the story and all of the emotions that went along with reading it. I hope that more people decide to read it because of your review.

January 14, 2013 - 3:42 pm

Nikki @ Foil the Plot - I don’t know why but I find cheating stories to be so interesting, especially when you eventually come to sympathize with the cheaters (as it sounds like you did in this book). There are always two sides to every story, in this case there are three, and albeit I might not agree with the action, I’m always fascinated by the reason behind it.

January 14, 2013 - 3:42 pm

Cynthia - Loooove your review of this one. I actually own it and it’s been sitting on my pile for two years now. I think I’ll be reading this one next right after I finish my current read all thanks to your review. I’m so curious to find out more now! =D

January 14, 2013 - 2:16 pm

Kristen Evey - Wow, you’ve definitely sold me on this one. This type of book isn’t my normal cup of tea, but this sounds thought provoking. I’ll check it out! Thanks Estelle!

January 14, 2013 - 12:21 pm

Asheley Tart (@BookwormAsheley) - Ooooh, this sounds really good!!

January 14, 2013 - 10:26 am

Taylor @ Reading is the Thing - I’ve wanted to read this one since it came out, but I just haven’t gotten around to it. Great review, Megan, I love books that make you feel like you can’t put them down!

January 14, 2013 - 10:20 am

Christina (A Reader of Fictions) - I bought this one for a couple of bucks on sale, because one of my friends talked it up big time. I didn’t know it was about infidelity. Eep. I really don’t like cheating, but it sounds like they get punished for it, so maybe? We’ll see how this goes.

Glad you enjoyed!

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