The Line Below by Ali Dean

The Line Below Cover

Engaging, New Adult, woman-power, sports romance

The Line Below (The Spark Sisters #1) by Ali Dean

Reading Level: Adult Romance
Release Date: June 28, 2018
Pages: 233 pages
Source: Purchase
Reviewed By: Kate McMurry

Shay Spark is a scholarship, competitive swimmer on a university team in the midst of her junior year, and she has Olympic potential. She spends over 20 hours a week swimming, and the title refers to the lines painted on the bottom of the pool delineating competitive lanes that she spends most of her life staring at. Shay has set school records for multiple events, the 100- and 200-yard butterfly in particular. Her goal for the year is to win an individual national championship.

Shay’s fraternal-twin sister, Lydia, nicknamed Kick, has a great deal of athletic potential as well. She is on the same swim team as Shay, but she doesn’t have the same fire in her belly for swimming that Shay does. Kick is not swimming at her full potential both because she thinks she can never truly measure up to Shay no matter how hard she tries, but mainly because Kick is too rebellious to be as dedicated and self-disciplined as Shay.

While Shay’s father is kind to her and supportive of Shay’s swimming, her mother is harshly critical and demanding of Shay. She is a highly successful business executive who wants Shay, who is an A-student, to follow in her footsteps. In that regard, Shay is working on a double major of math and business. Even though everyone else in her life believes in Shay as an athlete, her mother sees competitive swimming as merely a temporary sideline to the really important things in life. She wants Shay to get a prestigious internship in a big city during the coming summer as a vital step toward ultimately achieving a high-paying corporate management career. Shay can understand her mother’s motivation, but Shay knows if she takes the internship route, she will have little time to swim and will get out of shape. Instead, Shay wants to keep training with her outstanding university coach over the summer to improve her Olympic chances during or after her senior year. Unfortunately, because her mother’s oft-repeated, rigorous opinions strike her on a primordial level, they cause Shay to doubt her own passionate desire to make swimming a post-BS-degree, professional goal.

On her 21st birthday, Shay meets Jett Decker, a fellow university student. He is not only a “big man on campus” as a major track star, his local fame has expanded nationally because he has won a silver medal at the Olympics. Jett immediately makes his strong interest in Shay apparent, and before long Shay and Jett are seeing each other exclusively.

Between her commitment to swimming, keeping up her schoolwork, exploring her feelings for Jett, and worrying about Kick, whose self-destructive tendencies with men and booze seem to be spinning out of control, worries about whether her future career should be business or swimming becomes a heavy burden for Shay to bear, to the point that it begins to affect her performance as an athlete.

This New Adult novel, with a strong, capable, intelligent, elite-athlete heroine, is simultaneously a romance novel, a coming-of-age story, and classic women’s fiction.

Shay’s love interest, Jett, is not a typical New Adult romance hero–and thank goodness for that. The vast majority of NA heroes drink like fish and are promiscuous up until they meet the heroine. Jett does not drink or do drugs and he has no problem, before or after connecting with Shay, fending off the advances of the many women who throw themselves at him as a gorgeous, ripped, successful athlete. He also is what is known in the romance genre as a “multicultural” hero who has “light brown skin.” His father is mixed race in that Jett’s paternal grandparents consist of a white grandfather and a black grandmother. Jett’s mother is Puerto Rican. This unincorporated, island territory of the U.S. has an intriguing gene pool which is a mix, across its 400-year history, of Europeans primarily from Spain, Africans (originally brought in, as in the continental U.S., as slaves), and the Taino, who were indigenous aboriginal inhabitants found throughout the Caribbean islands.

What is typical, and expected in the romance genre, is that Jett has a strong, assertive personality. But beyond that basic requirement, there is the added positive extra that Jett is secure enough in his masculinity to respect and support Shay’s strength. Though we occasionally experience Jett’s point of view in this novel, the main point of view through 90% of the book is Shay. The one drawback about the romance, at least for some romance fans, is that this is essentially an “instalove” type of romance.

The core relationship in the novel, which is central to Shay’s coming-of-age growth arc, is her relationship with her powerful, intense mother. Even though, in terms of the on-stage presence of her mother, there are not many actual pages of the novel portraying this crucial relationship, those scenes make a big impact to Shay’s story.

In the tradition of women’s fiction, Shay also has three other important female relationships: her sister, her maternal aunt Coco who is only 14 years older than Shay, and her close friend, roommate and fellow member of the swim team, Beatrice. I enjoyed very much reading about these relationships.

As is the case in all of Ali Dean’s sports-themed novels, the descriptions she offers of athletic training and competitions are extremely authentic and so well written they are riveting to read. I’m a big fan of novels about talented, dedicated female athletes, and Ali Dean writes some of the very best.

In a refreshing change from the incessant, graphic, and often crude sex scenes in most NA romance novels, though Shay and Jett, naturally enough, as adults, have a sexual relationship, their lovemaking scenes are not at all graphic. In fact, there is very little description beyond the undressing and kissing phases of their sexual encounters, and their physical relationship is always tender as well as passionate.

I am happy to report that there is very little swearing in this book, which is a pleasant change from the incessant F-bombs in most NA novels.

The one familiar trope that is so much a part of NA, college-setting romances that is frequently found in this novel are multiple scenes of drunken parties. Fortunately, the drunkenness occurs primarily among subcharacters, and only occasionally is participated in by Shay.

I rate this book as follows:

Heroine: 5

Hero: 4

Subcharacters: 5

Setting: 4

Romance Plot: 4

Woman-Power Sports Plot: 5

Writing: 5

Overall: 5

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