The Secret Year by Jennifer Hubbard is a spare, straightforward, intriguing read. From the first line, "Julia was killed on Labor Day on her way home from a party," the intensity of this book does not let up. But, its intensity is not drawn from a ton of unnecessary drama. In fact, the main character, Colt, is about as laid back and realistic teen-boy as I've ever read. His voice and persona make him feel and sound like a real person.
This book reminded me of Romeo and Juliet, even though Colt tells us that his story is not a Romeo and Juliet story in the very first chapter. Even though I heard what he was saying, I still could not help but draw connections between the two stories. For one, Colt and Julia (Juliet?) had a secret relationship. Unlike Romeo and Juliet who are kept apart because of their parent's feud, Colt and Julia needed to keep their relationship a secret because of a mountain. In their town, Black Mountain separates the rich from the poor. Colt is poor and Julia is rich. Social class in their town means everything, and Colt and Julia are not willing to challenge the norm by going public with their relationship.
And, Julia already has a boyfriend. It's not clear to Colt (or me) if Julia ever really intended to break up with her boyfriend before she died in a horrible drunken-driving car crash. All we know is that she maintained a relationship in public with one boy and in private with another. For a year. That's a long time.
Julia's untimely death leaves Colt in an awkward position. He wants to mourn Julia's death, but cannot publicly, because he never told anyone about his relationship, not even his best friends. So, he questions the value and the meaning of their connection through out the entire book. That is until Julia's brother hands off a secret diary of Julia's that he found hidden after she died. In this diary, Colt unlocks the true feelings and struggles Julia encountered during her "secret" year with him. But, how can Colt move on now that he knows that his relationship with Julia was more than a fling to her?
I truly recommend this read. I think that it'll appeal to guys and gals because of the style of the narrative. The writing is fluid and clear and the story will grab your attention. I literally picked it up and read it in one sitting. Two hours, tops. I can't wait to recommend this read to my Romeo and Juliet-obsessed freshmen!