Shut Out: A Bayard Hockey Novel
I’m a big fan of the New Adult genre. With the exception of Robin York’s Deeper and Harder (both excellent), my favorite NA novels feature athletes. You can also guarantee I’ll read the book if it’s well reviewed and part of a series featuring recurring and related characters. Lately, I’ve been spoiled by great NA sports series by Elle Kennedy, Kristen Callihan and Jen Frederick. I’m always searching for new series and Ms. Jamieson’s Shut Out seemed poised to deliver and I started reading it with high expectations.
Shut out stars Jacob, a standout hockey player dropped from his championship farm team in Canada shortly before the NHL draft. He lands at Bayard College in a last ditch effort to preserve his future draft prospects. At Bayard he can play, hopefully stay out of trouble and redeem his reputation. Ms. Jamieson wisely withholds the specific reason Jacob was dropped from the team, but hints at something to do with an allegation of sexual assault. He adamantly proclaims his innocence, but heads to Bayard at the suggestion of his parents and former coach.
When the semester starts, Jacob reluctantly attends a mandatory week-long Sexual Assault Prevention and Awareness Program (SAPAP) for freshmen. At SAPAP, he gets a second chance with the girl he nearly slept with at a party shortly before school started. He couldn’t stop thinking about her and in a fortunate coincidence, she’s one of the workshop leaders. Skylar is a sophomore trying to put her freshman year – the worst of her life – behind her. She somehow failed two courses, barely passed three more, and lost a best friend when he killed himself. She started volunteering at SAPAP after the suicide, and we aren’t sure why. Again, Ms. Jamieson leaves the reader puzzling over this mystery in order to surprise us later. SAPAP brings Jacob and Skylar together after their abrupt failed hook-up when Jacob finds himself in Skylar’s smaller focus group.
Skylar thinks Jacob rebuffed her because he wasn’t attracted to her. She’s mortified when she recognizes him at the SAPAP meeting and avoids talking to him or making eye contact. But Jacob can’t forget that night either and knows the connection between them is something he’s never experienced with any other girl. He’s determined to apologize and explain his behavior and pursues her even after she clearly gives him to cold shoulder. The weekend after the training program ends, they run into each other at another off-campus party. After she lets him explain why he said no to her (he’s trying to remain abstinent and avoid women), she tells him it was probably a good thing because she too is trying to focus on her studies and ‘be good’ this year. After she helps him chase off a group of “puck bunnies” (college hockey jargon for girls who want to hook up with players), by pretending to be his girlfriend, he suggests they help each other by pretending to date. He thinks if they pretend to date, he’ll be able to keep the puck bunnies (I cringe every time I type that!) at bay and they’ll both have a believable excuse for avoiding the party scene and to spend time together. Skylar agrees to the plan even though she worries she’s already fallen for Jacob.
I think we all know what happens when hot, beautiful college students (of course they are – this is an NA novel after all) who are attracted to one another fake-date. Surely no one, not even the most naïve reader, can believe fake-dating will work for these two. Every other thought relates to their mutual attraction, eagerness to get naked and finally, to have (sure to be) mind blowing sex. Right away they behave like boyfriend and girlfriend even though their inner monologues remind them (and us) it’s fake. They masturbate in front of each other at the end of their first fake-date, have sex on the second and fake-date right up until a surprise revelation about Skylar many weeks and hook-ups later. I won’t reveal the surprise (I didn’t expect it), but in light of Jacob’s (still secret) history in Canada, it casts a dark shadow on the possibility of these two moving from fake boyfriend and girlfriend to the real thing.
Jacob is shocked when he learns the secret Skylar’s been keeping and decides to put some space between them because after all, she’s not really his girlfriend. Ahem. Skylar accepts his decision and tries to move on – but the misunderstanding between them is only resolved after Jacob’s secret is revealed, prompting them to face the truth of their feelings for each other.
Even though the fake dating premise is ridiculous, the story is interesting. I hated the disparity between the mature, adult themes and Ms. Jamieson’s very immature characters. On his way to the first SAPAP meeting, Ms. Jamieson has Jacob thinking I love women. I respect women. I would never hurt a woman. Why the fuck am I here? And not five minutes later, has him making this observation about a female student She’s cute, with shiny brown hair and a nice rack. I can’t understand how Ms. Jamieson misses the disparity between what she wants us to feel about her characters and what they actually do and say. They act like adults, but think and talk like teenagers. Would a character she makes a point of saying ‘respects women’ immediately comment on her ‘rack?’ Maybe; but not the Jacob she’s written in this novel. Skylar’s character suffers the same problem. In one – among many – glaring examples, Skylar and Jacob are in bed having a serious discussion about what to do if they find themselves interested in someone else while fake-dating. She agrees they need to be upfront and honest with the other right away. In her head, she thinks I have to stop myself from asking when we can boink again, because, wow. Boink? Really? Throughout the novel, Ms. Jamieson stresses Skylar’s sexual maturity (she is a LEAD volunteer at those SAPAP workshops!) and this is the word she uses for having sex? In the middle of a serious conversation about their relationship? These two also stop using pronouns once they start undressing and frequently ‘wanna’ do things to each other. The word ‘wanna’ appeared so many times I stopped counting. Did I forget to mention he’s pre-med and he’s a physics genius? I ‘wanna’ tell them to use full sentences and to encourage the author to spend time with actual college students in pre-med and physics majors.
In an endnote, Ms. Jamieson thanks friends for the feedback that helped her move forward with this ‘new adult adventure.’ I assume this is her first attempt at NA. Most of the essentials are correct – the age, the setting, the sex. But her characters read as teenagers play acting as adults and I didn’t believe it. I think Shut out more closely hues to a highly sexualized version of YA. It made me uncomfortable when I’d hoped to be turned on.