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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