To be honest, I've tried starting this review so many times and I still don't have a proper way to start it. All I can say it seems I'm in the minority when not loving - barely liking it - this book. So we'll cut right to the chase.
The Understatement of the Year is all about Rikker and Graham. They were best friends in high school, until suddenly they realized they both wanted more. So, for a while, they are careful, sneaking around so that no one will find out about them. But one day when they are out, they come across a group of homophobes, which lands Rikker in the hospital. Fast forward five years and they now meet when Rikker transfers to the same college that Graham is at, a place where they'll both be on the hockey team.
At first, the story doesn't reveal exactly what happened between Rikker and Graham back in high school, but it's not hard to guess. When they meet five years later, Graham has suppressed his attraction to men and is practically drowning in self-hatred and guilt. Rikker on the other hand has dealt with his past and, while not completely over it, is comfortable with who he is. For the next three hundred pages or so, the reader gets to see Graham struggling with his feelings towards Rikker, and Rikker trying to figure Graham out.
Here's the thing: Rikker and Graham are complex and incredibly well-written, but they are absolutely terrible characters. Let me explain. While it's easy to sympathize for them both, their personalities are just horrible. Rikker is a doormat and lets Graham step over him at all possible times. Graham is just a douche. He lets the teammates make homophobic slurs, even laughs at them (at one instance). He's selfish. He uses his best friend, Bella, several times without regard for her feelings. Which he also does with Rikker, if that wasn't clear already.
Speaking of Graham's character, let's look at the plot. There is none. What there is, is Graham's never ending inner monologues on how he hates himself, how he feels guilty, his angst. Repeat circa twenty times and you have this book. It's not an easy read, and while Graham's inner struggles are called for, it takes this book too long to get from one point to another. The first half is basically the same thing over and over again. What changes things is a certain event at a hockey game. It's cliché - a boring one. It's really one of the oldest plays too.
Basically, this novel's real issue is in its pacing, a common thing for the books in this series, it seems. All of them have so far struggled with the pacing in the middle part, and this one took it to a whole new level, what with the predictable and cliché plot devices.
More, I wanted to discuss two other points. The first one being religion. See, Rikker and Graham grew up in a town where Christianity had a heavy influence on the inhabitants, which explains Graham's fear to a longer extent. However, Rikker first goes to a college which is supposedly run by progressive Christians. And still, when the school finds out he's gay, they kick him off the team (which later lands him at the same college as Graham). So it's the matter of portraying Christians, even progressive ones, as LGBTQ unfriendly. While this might be true for some cases, reading this novel it sounds as if all of them are. Maybe now is the time to say I'm not a Christian myself, but this portrayal still bugged me.
The second thing is that the college Rikker and Graham attends has taken a stand on letting LGBTQ people play on their sports team without needing to fear they'll be harassed or kicked off of the team for their sexual orientation. They did a big commercial (or maybe an ad, I don't remember exactly) that was something the school prided themselves on. Yet, when one member of the hockey team continuously makes homphobic remarks, no one deals with it. Even when the coach - who has at least one gay family member, I might add - is aware of it, he lets it slip. Like what? It was a big deal to the school, and yet, when one of their students is being harassed several times, there are no consequences for the harasser? I expected more, I must say.
This book, with its complex character, is a drag. It's too slow, both on plot and character growth. There's not enough happening outside Graham's head to keep things interesting once you've come to loathe his character. Even Rikker with his easy going persona and wit isn't enough to carry this novel full with angst. At the end, which is rushed and unsatisfactory, this one doesn't quite deliver.