I devoured the whole Ivy Years series during a 5 day long-weekend (one thing transcontinental flights are good for is reading), and I'm not usually a fan of the New Adult genre. These books were a pleasant surprise. The Year We Fell Down is the first in the series, and it tells the story of Corey Callahan and Adam Hartley, two students who meet when they are neighbors in Harkness College's (modeled after Yale) handicapped student dorm. Hartley's injury is temporary: he has badly broken his leg, which lands him in a cast for twelve weeks and costs him a season playing hockey. Callahan's disability is more significant and more permanent: also a hockey player, a bad fall left her with a spinal cord injury that has left her unable to feel her lower extremities. Though she can walk (with great effort and the assistance of cumbersome braces and crutches), she is most often in a wheelchair.
There were a lot of things I loved about this story. First, it felt like nothing I'd ever read before. The "disability" trope isn't uncommon, but usually a main character is stricken with a scar or something disfiguring but which doesn't impact his/her physical abilities, or something like blindness or deafness, which doesn't impact his/her attractiveness. Corey is recovering from an injury that has changed, permanently, both her physical ability and the way she and others see her, and there's no miracle cure. She can walk (with great effort and perseverance), but she's never going to skate again.
I loved Corey's attitude, and the thought-provoking way the author addressed her disability. Nothing is sugar-coated. Corey is honest and sometimes angry about her condition. She gets annoyed when she goes to the dining hall and can't see over the counters to see what's being served, and how, in her chair, her line of sight is exactly at everyone else's butt level. She gets frustrated when she goes to a party and can't move around to mingle, and when she gets separated from her chair, she has to do an embarrassing butt-skoot down several flights of stairs to get back to it. And yet she goes to the dining hall and to the parties anyway. Her parents would rather have kept her home, or at least at a closer, more modern school with better handicap access, but Corey has dreamed of going to Harkness forever, and she's determined to live her dreams.
I also love that Corey doesn't let romance or heartbreak stand in the way of her studies. She is a serious student without being a geek, and when Hartley blows her off when his long-time girlfriend comes home from a semester abroad, Corey doesn't slink off somewhere to sulk: she studies her ass off. Neither does she wait around for Hartley to discover the error of his ways and come crawling back to her: Corey realizes it was a mistake to rely so heavily on Hartley for social interaction, and she joins an intermural water polo team in an effort to get out more. In short, Corey is brave, and smart, and frankly pretty awesome, without being an angsty Mary Sue.
I didn't love Hartley so much. For much of the first part of the book, he moves in on Corey despite the fact that he's got an absentee girlfriend. (And the girlfriend is annoyingly one-dimensional, such that Hartley's attraction, even when he explains that it's more than just her looks, does not reflect well on him at all.) However, he eventually owns his sins in a way that is satisfying even as it did not entirely win me over.
The sex scenes are few but they're great: funny and sexy and frank.
One thing I didn't love about this book is the tidy conclusion to Hartley's family dilemma. He's never met his father, a wealthy society scion who got Hartley's mom (a waitress at the country club) knocked up and then didn't pay his child support. Hartley dates Stacia, the one-dimensional rich girlfriend, because she lives in his dad's neighborhood. At the end of the story, Hartley's dad shows up writing huge checks for back child support and full of promises to make things right, and it was all just a little too neat and Pollyanna-ish for the rest of the story. Reading on in the series, it seems like these late-entering characters who show up to tie up the thorniest plots with a neat and tidy little bow seem to be a recurring theme in the Ivy Years series, and it's a theme I could have done without.
Bottom line: This is easily the best New Adult book I've ever read--(Caveat: Most of the other NA books I've tried, I've hated)--and it's also one of the most refreshingly original contemporary romances I've ever read, so I highly recommend it.