Grace. Hannah. Icebreaker. Atria, 2023. 448 pp. ISBN 9781668026038. $17.99
When a prank goes wrong and puts one rink out of commission, the hockey team and figure skaters at Maple Hills College in LA need to share the remaining rink, and skater Anastasia Allen gets into a complicated relationship with hockey captain Nate Hawkins. Fremenies that become lovers, neither 21-year-old has been in a committed relationship in college, although Stas has a friend with benefits and is also in a committed professional relationship with her dysfunctional skating partner, Aaron.
When Aaron is beat up–and blames it on the hockey team–Nate takes the blame, and although at first it results in a rift with him and Stas, Nate proves himself to be a stand-up guy and eventually becomes her figure-skating partner when Aaron is put of commission a second time; throwing Stas and Nate together is the last thing Aaron wants, and his manipulation has an undesired effect for him–they pretty much move in together and their domesticity is sweetly detailed. It’s also an opportunity to address Stat’s disordered eating around her skating partner’s controlling and unhealthy diet plan for her.
Most novels don’t open with the protagonists sleeping with other people, but it serves to set a scene for how right these two are for one another. Chapters alternate point of view between Stas and Nate as Stas tries to resist Nate’s charm, but cannot. There is some drama–it’s definitely a new adult book, with bad choices and living in the moment and detailing the college scene, but it’s elevated by strongly portrayed, diverse, distinct supporting characters. The complicated relationships each has with their parents adds depth: Stas is adopted, has Olympic dreams, has been in therapy half her life, is on scholarship, and worries about her parents pinning their hopes and dreams on her; Nate doesn’t want to go into his family’s ski resort business, is in a leadership position as the captain of the hockey team, and is used to taking care of people. The characters are young and real and flawed, and they grow in their relationship in very healthy ways. The abusiveness of Stas’s partner Aaron is painted as complex, but it’s pretty obvious to the reader that his volatile personality is inappropriate for any type of relationship.
The writing is fast and emotional, the banter is fun and flirty, and the sexy scenes are athletic and spicy with a lot of dirty talk. I couldn’t quite believe or relate to 21 year olds thinking about knocking up their partner or getting married, but they come after months of dating, the protagonists question these thoughts (and how rapidly they are falling in love with one another).