Fourth book in a compelling YA/NA sports romance series
Reading Level: Young Adult
Release Date: July 26, 2015
Pages: 168 pages
Source: Review copy from author
Reviewed By: Kate McMurry
This YA/NA novel is the fourth book in a six-book series about Pepper Jones and Jace Wilder, whom we have previously encountered in book 1, PEPPED UP, book 2, ALL PEPPED UP, and book 3, PEPPED UP AND READY. The books in this series are not stand-alone, and it is recommended that they be read in order. Note that this review will be a spoiler for books 1, 2 and 3 if you have not read them yet.
It is Pepper’s freshman year and Jace’s sophomore year at the University of Colorado in Denver. Pepper is living in a dormitory dedicated to scholarship athletes, and Jace has moved off-campus into a house with fellow football players. At the start of the book, their romantic relationship is going strong, and they are madly in love. Then the unthinkable happens. Jace’s alcoholic mother, who abandoned him to his father’s care when he was a toddler, and with whom during the last two years he has strongly reconnected as she has been in recovery, suddenly leaves town without warning, gets back into drugs and gets arrested. Jace spirals down into an abandonment depression triggered by her defection. Due to a lack of adequate coping skills (and unwisely failing to seek therapy), he withdraws from Pepper. In a dysfunctional attempt to avoid feeling gut-wrenching emotional pain, he opts instead to feel nothing at all. He believes he cannot be with Pepper, because around her he cannot remain an emotionless robot, and early in the book he breaks up with her.
Pepper is, not surprisingly, totally devastated. Jace is the love of her life, her soulmate, and she thought she was that to him. To deal with the pain, she puts all her energy into running and her school work, and she turns for emotional support to the wonderful women who are both on her university track team and living with her as roommates and fellow residents in the athletes’ dorm.
The two concurrent plots in this book are a tragic romance and a girl-power sports plot. Pepper has many wonderful female friendships, which she deeply explores and relies on in this book, and which I greatly enjoyed reading about. For those of us who are romance junkies who demand a “happily ever after” ending, I will put in a necessary spoiler: Be aware that this is a six-book odyssey. There is more to come that is hopeful and positive in the next two books, so don’t give up on Jace and Pepper.
Pepper remains a very sympathetic heroine, both as an athlete and in her relationships with her friends and teammates. Because she is a dedicated and skilled athlete, the sports plot is filled with fascinating details of her struggles and victories as a sports competitor. Her grandmother, Bunny Jones, is in this book as well, and continues to be a terrific subcharacter.
The author wisely alternates points of view between Jace and Pepper in this book for the first time in this series. By allowing us to look into Jace’s mind about a tenth of the total book as he struggles with angry depression, it helps prevent us, the readers, from irretrievably despising Jace for dumping Pepper. We are allowed to see that he is hurting Pepper out of his immense abandonment issues, not to be malicious, and it helps us to endure the fact that the entire romantic conflict in this book is due to his emotional breakdown. It also allows us to know that (another necessary spoiler for fans of classic romance plotting) there is, in fact, no actual cheating on his side.
This book is best suited for adults and older teens because of a realistic portrayal of underage drinking and drunkenness and underage sex (though none of it is graphic). There are some relatively minor occurrences of off-color language.
I rate this book as follows:
Romantic Hero: 3
Romance Plot: 3
Girl-Power Sports Plot: 5
Overall: 4.5 rounded to 5