off the ice, is more than a sports romance though. it's an emotional coming-of-age story set in a small town with many secrets. the story opens at claire o'connors goodbye party. she's leaving juniper falls to pursue her dream of singing on the stage, starting at an advance studies musical theater program at northwestern. she's had a crush on luke pratt since forever and for the first time ever he's paying attention to her and she wants this to go somewhere.
except it doesn't go anywhere good. in the meantime, tate tanley, claire's best friend's little brother sees what's happening while dealing with problems of his own. his father is a hockey hero, revered in the town, but behind closed doors his behavior is less than honorable. he's a mean drunk, and while tate is trying to keep the keys away from his dad so he doesn't drive things get heated. claire tries to intervene, but the situation escalates so quickly and tate ends up with an arm broken in two places. when they go to the emergency room, they come up with a cover story and swear to never talk about the events of that night again.
but a year later claire is back in town. her father is recovering from surgery to remove a brain tumor, and claire is trying to help keep the family afloat by working at her parents' bar and restaurant and staying on top of the bills. college seems like an expense that should be cut away, not splurged on. her initial intention is to take a semester off, but as things get even more dire with her family and their finances a year seems like a more realistic option. and that's if she can even continue at northwestern. there are cheaper schools out there.
when tate sees that claire is back, he finds himself drawn to her. she was always more that just his big sister's friend. but he never expected her to see him in a different light. but that night in the back alley changed them both. for the first time, they really saw each other. and tate, for one, is so relieved to know that there is someone else who sees him--flaws and all. he's not just the hockey hero's son following in daddy's footsteps. he's someone who has the ability to fix and repair things. he's someone you can count on when you need him. he's honorable. he's holding the weight of the world on his shoulders and claire knows it.
other people suspect it, like tate's stepfather and his best friends. but claire is the only one he trusts with all of his truths. and as both tate's and claire's worlds are rocked with tragedy and misunderstandings, the connection they forge and how they help each other rise above the madness is both emotionally draining and utterly satisfying. things come to a head, as they do, and it's totally chaotic and tense and terrifying, but even as things implode around claire and tate you don't doubt the depth of their feelings for each other. they walk through fire for one another, even when they aren't speaking, it's clear that there is so much love there. it wouldn't hurt so bad if they didn't care so deeply.
i just loved everything about this novel. the characters, the setting, the romance, the stakes--it all worked for me. and i honestly am so excited to know that there will be more stories set in juniper falls, it seems to me like it's a town worth knowing.
**off the ice will publish on february 28, 2017. i received an advance reader copy courtesy of netgalley/entangled publishing (entangled: teen) in exchange for my honest review.