Excellent sequel, R-rated YA/NA girl-power, sports novel
Reading Level: Young Adult
Release Date: July 10, 2014
Pages: 170 pages
Reviewed By: Kate McMurry
This book is the second in a soon-to-be, six-book series about Pepper and Jace, whom we first met in book 1, PEPPED UP. These books are not stand-alone, and it is recommended that they be read in order. Note that this review will be a spoiler for book 1 if you have not read it yet.
This series is set in a small, mountain city in Colorado, and the series offers fascinating local color from this lovely setting.
At the end of PEPPED UP, Pepper and Jace have just officially begun dating, after 14 years of being close friends, making book 1 a classic “friends to romantic partners” story. There is also an exciting sports-related plot in book 1, with Pepper becoming one of the top, female, high-school runners in the country. Book 1 takes place during the first semester of Pepper’s junior year in high school and Jace’s senior year, making her 16 and him 17 at the time. This book continues in the second semester of that same school year, and Jace turns 18 during this book.
Anyone looking at Pepper’s life from the outside might assume she has it made. She’s a pretty, slim, star athlete, and she’s dating the school’s gorgeous star quarterback, who is the most popular guy at her school. But Pepper has never cared for the type of adulation that is so much a part of her charismatic boyfriend’s life. He’s a natural leader, with both male and female teens hanging on him wherever he goes. Pepper is the opposite. She much prefers to stay away from parties, fade into the background in general, and at all times avoid the excess drama that seems to prevail among the partying seniors in Jace’s crowd.
Unfortunately, drama is stalking her every step now that she and Jace are an item. Jealous ex-lovers of the formerly promiscuous Jace are extremely displeased that he is out of commission, and one ex-fling of his in particular, a beautiful, sexy vixen who is as popular as Jace, is determined to steal Jace from Pepper (the classic, “Evil Other Woman” antagonist). In addition to fending off scheming teenage girls, a family secret about his father that Jace has kept from Pepper for years is suddenly revealed, and she is hurt that Jace has not trusted her enough to confide in her about it long before now. And just to make Jace’s parent issues over-the-top complete, his recovering-addict mother, who deserted him when he was a baby, resulting in lifelong abandonment issues within Jace, has unexpectedly moved back to town. Pepper is worried that she will suck in Jace, convincing him she can offer him the maternal affection he deeply longs for, only to leave him behind again and break his heart once more.
On top of all the people problems weighing Pepper down, she is also enduring trouble with her passion, running. She feels immensely pressured by perceived high expectations of her now that she is a national champion, and for the first time her intense joy in running has vanished, and her competitive spirit in track races along with it, due to her angsting over the possibility of becoming a failure.
I found this sequel just as compelling as book 1. So much so, in fact, that I could not stand to put the book down after I started it, staying up long into the night to read it straight through. I am a big fan of YA/NA sports romances where the heroine is a dedicated athlete, especially when the author keeps a strong balance between the romance and the heroine’s struggles with her sport. Once again, as with book 1, PEPPED UP, talented author, Ali Dean, has pulled off this difficult artistic feat.
Pepper is a very sympathetic heroine, and I appreciated Jace’s important emotional growth arc within this book, as well. I especially enjoyed the loyalty and protectiveness both Pepper and Jace display toward each other. I also felt that, in spite of there being no graphic portrayals of sexual activities–and no intercourse–between this attractive couple, that the sexual chemistry between them is very strong. Which is always a big plus in a romance novel.
Pepper’s loving, eccentric grandmother, Bunny, who raised her after her parents died when she was a baby, remains a central figure in this novel, and is a wonderful addition to the series. I also love Pepper’s dog, Dave, her frequent running partner whom she describes as a “multi-colored, short-haired mutt.”
This book is best suited for adults and older teens because of the underage drinking, underage sex (between various teens), and illicit drug use of many of the teen characters. Importantly, though, within this book, Jace is drastically abstaining from all three of these troublesome activities compared to his behavior in book 1. Pepper remains a virgin who respects her body enough to avoid drugs and drink very little alcohol, especially compared to most of the other hard-drinking teens in this series.
I rate this book as follows:
Romantic Hero: 5
Girl-Power Sports Plot: 5