Undoubtedly there is sex in the book, but it's not so smutty that you need to take a shower after reading it. Our narrator throughout the story is Colten "Colt" Morrissey, a teenage boy who confides to the audience about his secret year long relationship with Julia Vernon. It's not that Colt and Julia don't like each other, it's just that Colt comes from the poor side of town and Julia is from the rich side. Now before you say, "Hey, I've read this book before", the book's description itself even sells the book as follows:
"Take Romeo and Juliet. Add The Outsiders. Mix thoroughly."
It's the perfect summary for the story that unfolds as Colt recalls the events that occurred after Julia's death in a drunk driving accident. Shortly after her funeral, he receives her secret diary, consisting of letters all written out to him. These letters give Colt insight into what Julia was thinking about during the span of their relationship, as well as how she really felt about him. What he sees is a portrait of a girl uncertain as to whether she should stay with the boy she truly loves, or continue to date her boyfriend. As Colt reads on into Julia's thoughts, personal developments end up spurring sociological developments, culminating in a big "rumble" towards the end of the book.
Which is precisely why I can say I like the book, but I don't love it. For starters, The Secret Year really sells itself on the love story aspect, when it really comes off as a more uneven blend of Hintonesque social tension and romantic entanglements. That's not to say that the book isn't an enjoyable read, but it's not exactly the most consistent in tone and story. Also, the book moves so fast that by the end of the novel, I was expecting at least another 10 to 20 pages wrapping things up. Instead, the book just kind of ends, which is fine if you're trying to use that as a metaphor for the fleeting nature of Julia's life. By the end of the book, it's as if we truly are in Colten's shoes: we've hit the end of the text, we want to know more about what we've just finished reading, and we're surprised it ended so abruptly.
The Secret Year starts with a forbidden love, but ends with a rumble, and somehow two plot lines feel like they should have been separated into their own books in order to truly flourish. It would be nice if Ms. Hubbard could revisit this world, because while it isn't the most polished product (it is a debut novel, after all), it has enough flashes of depth that it would be fun to see her further hone her craft and deliver more tails of The Black Mountain kids and The Flats kids. If anything, I would like to see her give a little more resolution to poor Colt, because the kid deserves it.