Elle Kennedy returns to the new adult hockey romance world with The Chase, a spinoff from her Off-Campus series, that is set to launch at least two (please more) books into the much loved setting of Briar University. While there are returning characters and a few events referenced, as well as some pre-existing dynamics from the previous series, The Chase can be read as a standalone. However I would totally recommend backtracking anyway, because the Off-Campus novels are just great. The NA genre can be a real mixed bag, at least for this reader (and I’m sure I’m not alone in feeling that way), but there are a few authors that rarely let me down when I do decide to dive in. Kennedy is one of those for me.
Colin Fitzgerald – Fitzy – is not your typical jock. Sure, he’s a talented hockey player and has the expected physicality of an athlete (tall, brawny, and covered in tattoos), but he’s a not-so-secret nerd. An introvert. He has no interest in pursuing a career in hockey after college and, when not in practice or balancing a double major in Fine Arts and computer programming, spends most of his time sketching or coding for his own RPG (online role playing game). Basically he’s a quiet guy who prefers to fly under the radar despite his skills on the ice. So when Summer Di Laurentis is thrown in his path, all blonde hair and explosive energy, a drama-magnet with no desire to shy away from the center of attention, he is both painfully drawn to her and equally pained to be around her. He wants her but he doesn’t want the life she leads.
Party girl. Sorority sister. Airhead. Summer is used to people jumping to conclusions about her and Fitzy isn’t the first, nor will he be the last, to judge her based on appearances. Having transferred to Briar mid-term, she arrives on the doorstep of the Kappa Beta Nu house ready to start afresh, only to be unceremoniously barred entrance because of a reputation that precedes her arrival. With nowhere else to go, Summer’s brother, Dean, calls in a favour with his old hockey teammates and she finds herself swapping sisters for a bunch of bros. Having previously visited campus to spend time with her brother, she’s quite familiar with her new roommates, especially Fitzy, a guy who fascinated her upon their first meeting and for whom she is still carrying a torch. But what sends her into the arms of her other roommate, Hunter, is overhearing just what Fitzy really thinks of her. And it’s not a charming list of positive attributes. Unbeknownst to her, Fitzy was trying to come up with reasons why he shouldn’t be interested in her to help solidify his resolve to keep his distance, and in the end it’s Summer who ends up avoiding him instead.
What really interested me about this particular set-up was the ebb and flow of the relationship between Fitzy and Summer. Kennedy really makes these two work for their inevitable coming together (and makes her readers wait for that UST to, y’know, resolve itself) and the title is so apt in that regard. There is some chasing but there is also some dodging, some weaving and some outright running away. Fitzy has a hard time articulating emotion and dealing with his feelings as a result of his parents’ ugly divorce, whereas Summer has no problem speaking her mind or her heart. Fitzy prefers to avoid confrontation, altercations, and any kind of overly social environment, whereas Summer thrives in any and every situation, making friends wherever she goes, engaging with the world around her. But Summer isn’t perfect and isn’t carefree, despite her wealthy parents and happy home life. She has her own struggles, her own doubts, and I really loved the depth that Kennedy gives her. She could’ve been just another beautiful, talented, fun-loving, materialistic and fashion-obsessed blonde girl, but she’s so much more. I’ll admit I came into this read expecting to like, but not love, Summer as I, too, had my own preconceived expectations of her from what I saw of her in the last book. But instead she really surprised me and I actually came to love her even more than I already loved Fitzy.
On paper, as even Fitzy acknowledges, it really doesn’t seem like these two very different people should work as a couple. But what I especially loved about them is that being together doesn’t calm them down or redeem or even ‘fix’ them as individuals. It doesn’t smooth out their rough edges or make them any less different than they were before. Instead their relationship turns them both up a little louder, Fitzy especially. The going isn’t easy, it’s definitely a bit messy, but it’s passionate, full of laughter, frustration, and as a result, feels very genuine.
As fans of the first series have come to expect, there’s a good amount of hockey fun, bro-talk, and some total ridiculousness (some of these characters just make you laugh right out loud) to be found in this book. But there’s an equal amount of seriousness, of authenticity, to Kennedy’s books, too. In The Chase the author addresses issues like rape culture and how often reports of discomfort or disquiet over a superior’s behaviour are doubted (gut feelings vs proof of inappropriate conduct) as well as mental health. Just as important, too, is the emphasis on the negativity of being critical of others, judging or stereotyping; and I appreciated how Fitzy is guilty of perpetuating this attitude and then winds up being on the receiving end of it. In a similar vein, I love how Summer is frustrated by Fitzy’s inability to open himself up, to express himself in the heat of the moment, and is then put in a situation where she suddenly understands a little of what Fitzy might have been going through. It’s elements like these, presented from multiple angles and perspectives, that give the characters dimension, understanding, and realistic growth, and that’s what brings me back to these books, and this author, and that’s what I feel sets them apart from the rest of the genre.
I’m so looking forward to more in the Briar U series.