Book: The Chase by Elle Kennedy (2018)

Reviewer: Bethany

Age/Genre: Hockey Romance

Reading Accoutrements: Your favorite latte and a quiet, cozy corner

Content Notes: Learning Disability, Sexual Harassment, Bullying

I think I’m going to need to start paying for a television package just so I can watch sports. I mean, I was doing fine before the pandemic started. Then, all of a sudden, if there was a game I wanted to watch, I couldn’t go to a bar and see it and soon after that, many sports were cancelled altogether. This is relevant to the review, I swear! I started picking up sport romances to console myself from the sudden dearth of sports in my life, and now my Kindle queue is full of various fictional athletes and their potential love interests, which is how I ended up reading The Chase.

The story follows Summer Heyward-Di Laurentis, a college student studying fashion design, and Colin Fitzgerald, a college hockey player double majoring in computer programming and fine arts/drawing. At the beginning of the book, Summer arrives at Briar University, following expulsion from her last school (we’ll get to that later), to discover that she has been kicked out of her sorority. Temporarily without a home for the semester, she goes to her family condo in New York City (about an hour from campus) and agrees to celebrate the new year with her brother and his wife. Summer’s brother, a recent graduate of and former hockey player for Briar University, arranges for her to live with a few of his teammates. The only problem is that Summer has a huge crush on one of her new roommates, the tattooed nerdy hockey player, Colin Fitzgerald.

Known as Fitz by his teammates, Colin is determined not to be distracted by his beautiful new roommate. He knows that pretty girls aren’t interested in relationships with nerds like him. Besides, with his senior year coming to an end, Fitz is determined to secure his future with a job in video game design. Summer is attractive and fun to be around, but she won’t want a future with Fitz. But as Fitz gets to know her, he realizes that she has hidden depths and quirkiness that he finds endearing. (Go figure – pretty people can have personalities!)

Kennedy does a great job in this book illustrating that people don’t just fit into one box. Fitz is a hockey player and a “jock,” yes. But he is also a “nerdy video game designer” and an “artist.” He classifies himself as all of these categories and gets annoyed when people try to eliminate an aspect of his personality, yet he immediately places Summer in the “shallow pretty girl” box and is surprised when she has more substance.

This book tackles a lot of really difficult issues, from learning disabilities to abuse of power, sexual harassment to bullying. I appreciated the way Kennedy turns these issues on their heads, approaching them from a non-traditional point-of-view.

Let’s start with Summer’s learning disability. Summer comes from a family of very academically minded individuals – primarily lawyers. As a family, they spend a lot of time reading and discussing the items that they read. Yet, Summer has a very hard time in school due to “a cluster of symptoms related to ADHD.” She struggles to concentrate and to organize her thoughts on paper. Her parents are very supportive, and always make sure that she has what she needs to succeed in her schooling. When the medication to treat her ADHD made her nauseous and dizzy and gave her headaches, they found other solutions and accommodations to help her cope with her work load.

The thing is, even with her family’s support and their insistence that she is not somehow “less than,” Summer faces a lot of insecurities, especially when it comes to school. She is embarrassed of her learning disability and works hard to hide behind her attractive appearance and happy, confident personality. While she accepts that she requires accommodations in school, when those accommodations are not met, Summer doesn’t fight the authority figures who refuse to provide for her needs.

The events that led to Summer’s expulsion from her last university are an excellent example. She worked hard and struggled to create a midterm paper for Sociology, one of her most difficult general education classes – because the TA was apparently unwilling to compromise for her accommodations. Unfortunately, when she found out her grade, Summer was informed that she had received an F because she had plagiarized the paper. She had cited all of her direct quotes, but had not realized she needed in-text citations for her paraphrased references (although she did add those references to the bibliography). The TA told her she could appeal the grade but the university would not be likely to overturn it. Because Summer was already on academic probation, she knew that the F would get her kicked out of school.

At Briar University, Summer is immediately called to the Assistant Dean’s office to discuss her accommodations. The Assistant dean is concerned that Summer was accepted to the university because her father made a phone call to the Dean, so he takes on the role of academic advisor and informs her that he will ensure no further preferential treatment will be given. If she makes a mistake, she is out. Needless to say, the relationship between Summer and her academic advisor, who should be a valuable support tool in her arsenal to help manage her responsibilities, is contentious at best.

I really appreciated Kennedy’s approach to Summer’s character. She is very nuanced and her depth comes across as real and empathetic. I also appreciated that the Assistant dean’s character showed me what it looked like to completely misunderstand the purpose of accommodations for learning disabilities and to make an otherwise confident person insecure.

The Assistant dean’s character actually serves several purposes in this storyline (and serves as the perfect segue into the next intense subject explored in this book – abuse of power and sexual harassment). There is a new professor in the fashion department at Briar University. Described as the male version of Anna Wintour (editor-in-chief of Vogue, who the movie The Devil Wears Prada was loosely based on), Erik Laurie has a disturbing tendency to wink at female students and, for some reason, keeps touching Summer’s arm. When the Assistant dean asks for Summer’s opinion on the new professor, she mentions that she generally feels uncomfortable around him, and the Assistant dean immediately attacks her, saying that she needs to be more aware that “throwing around statements such as these could seriously threaten and potentially destroy someone’s career” and advising her to “be more prudent before making these kinds of accusations.”

When Professor Laurie’s behavior turns even more inappropriate (he propositions her), Summer turns him down but chooses not to report him because of the Assistant dean’s dismissive reaction to her previous complaints. The new professor is, unfortunately, not averse to sabotaging Summer’s academic career, threatening her ability to complete her final project with a high enough grade to continue her schooling. Thankfully, the rest of Summer’s support system (friends and family) are able to help her pass her class. Unfortunately, Summer is not the only student who caught the eye of the skeezy professor. It takes Summer witnessing Professor Laurie’s attack on another female student for her to report him to authorities. 

Kennedy’s approach to this topic really demonstrated the structural impediments to feeling safe on campus that students can face. The Assistant dean was completely out of line to attack a student expressing concern over the behavior of another authority figure in her life, yet that kind of reaction – “do you really want to ruin his life over a touch on your hand and some alleged eye contact?” – is all too common. Even if Summer chose not to lodge a formal complaint, the Assistant dean should have made note of her concerns, encouraged her to lodge a complaint later if she changed her mind, and checked in later to see if the professor was still making her feel uncomfortable. At my university, every faculty and staff member (with the exception of a few in a specific office) are mandatory reporters. If they hear of concerning behavior of any kind, they are legally obligated to report the incident within 24 hours. The point: it’s not the Assistant dean’s call to determine whether or not the professor’s behavior is inappropriate.

I’ll get off my soapbox now…

The last thing I was impressed with was Kennedy’s approach to bullying. Fitz applies to several companies for a job or internship in video game design, and he even gets an interview with his dream company. The CEO of the university personally interviews potential interns, so Fitz arrives at his first interview extremely nervous. It doesn’t help that the interview is…strange. The CEO seems fixated on the fact that Fitz is a hockey player, keeps calling him a jock. In fact, the man almost outright tells Fitz that the fact that the hockey team was on his resume almost cost him the interview. It was Fitz’s sample video game that won the CEO over. Throughout the interview process, the CEO’s behavior becomes more and more inappropriate. He constantly brings up Fitz’s jock-ness (an already sore spot for Fitz because he feels like he can’t keep up with the computer programming/video game crowd – his talent is really in character design – but hockey was the only way he was able to pay for college).

It turns out that the CEO was mercilessly bullied by jocks growing up. The now-billionaire has apparently never chosen to see a therapist to work through his childhood traumas, because he is bitter and rude to anyone who represents athleticism in his mind. In fact, he bullies those representations of jock-ness just as mercilessly as the jocks from his past bullied him, just with money, power, and words instead of physical abuse. Kennedy did an amazing job of demonstrating how bullies can create bullies. I really enjoyed the way she turned this topic on its head – from the traditional nerd-bullied-by-jock to jock-bullied-by-nerd.
This book has a ton of great topics to explore and a cute love story. I haven’t even discussed Fitz and Summer’s relationship, which gets a little complicated there for a minute, because I felt like these other topics were important to explore. Suffice it to say that Fitz and Summer are good for each other and this book might be good for you!

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