In a small Minnesota town where life centers on hockey, a past trauma binds two childhood friends together, eventually leading to a close relationship in this YA novel.
Tate Tanley finds his identity in Juniper Falls defined by his father’s legacy. Keith Tanley led the high school hockey team to the 1994 state championship, and no matter how good Tate is in his own right, he is always measured against his dad. But everyone in town who reveres his father doesn’t realize he is a violent drunk who once broke Tate’s arm. There was only one witness, Claire O’Connor, Tate’s older sister’s best friend. Claire and Tate have kept the secret for over a year; she left town to pursue her dream of studying performance at Northwestern University, and he finished high school. But Claire returns to town when her father, Davin, becomes severely ill and he needs help running the family business (“the coolest hockey bar in the state of Minnesota, famous for the walleye horseshoe”). When the two friends meet again, Tate is no longer the awkward kid brother (“When did Tate Tanley get such a deep voice? And when did he start rescuing girls from drunk creepers in bars?” Claire muses). And Claire now seems within Tate’s reach. They’re both battling personal demons, but maybe together they can confront adversity and become stronger than if they stayed apart. Cross (Chasing Truth, 2016, etc.) has an extensive background in the world of sports that shows in her depictions of the town’s reverence for hockey, a team’s dedication, and the complex rules that govern college recruitment of athletes. But the book’s biggest strength is also its greatest weakness: readers who are not hockey lovers will experience periods of boredom when entire chapters focus on a game. But fans of YA romance should find the sweet and sexy courtship between Tate and Claire appealing as they move beyond their shared childhoods to see each other as maturing adults and potential objects of love and desire. Their relationship path is exceedingly realistic, fraught with the tensions of abuse and illness, rather than just another superficial liaison.
An engaging and spicy romance that targets sports fans but with a well-developed arc suitable for aficionados of YA love stories.