I usually prefer to group my reviews together, but I had so many thoughts about Role Model by Rachel Reid (spoiler: I loved it!) that I word vomited a super long review. Whoops! I’ve cleaned it up significantly from that first draft but this is still a pretty long, somewhat rambly review with some spoilers clearly marked further down. Though if you prefer your reviews completely spoiler free, maybe skip this one and just know that it’s an excellent addition to the series!
Role Model by Rachel Reid (August 10)
Role Model opens with Troy joining the Ottawa Centaurs, a team he was quickly traded to after getting in a fight with his former best friend during practice and saying he believes the women accusing the friend of raping them. Troy just wants to keep his head down and stay focused on hockey while still reeling from losing his best friend, his team, and his home. He also recently broke up with his first boyfriend, who he’d been dating quietly for several years, and everything is hitting him at once. Social media manager Harris has no idea what’s going on in Troy’s life, but he knows Troy can use a friend, and Harris can’t stay away. As their friendship blooms and develops into something more, Troy starts to open up and question what he wants his life to look like going forward.
Omg, I loved this so much! I read it in one sitting and stayed up way too late reading it and then woke up the next morning and started rereading my favorite parts. It just gave me all the feels, and I absolutely adored it! I think this one is my new second favorite right behind Heated Rivalry. Seriously, this book just made me so, so happy. It’s full of big emotions and just made me feel like I was wrapped up in a warm, happy hug at the end. It’s so rare that I finish a book and immediately want to reread it, but it does happen a few times a year, and Role Model was one of them. It will absolutely be on my favorites list at the end of 2021!
Also, can I just say that I loved seeing Ilya and Wyatt in this book?! I thought Ilya kind of stole the show in Common Goal — the scenes where he appeared were the ones I found myself rereading. So I really, really love what a perfect supporting character he was in this book. You still get all of the personality you love and get to see him be a great team captain, but Troy and Harris were really the stars of this book. I’m also really interested in Reid’s setup for Ilya and Shane’s sequel. As much as I love that book, I’m always afraid when authors revisit my favorites because so often it doesn’t go well, and I have that same fear with the Heated Rivalry sequel. But it’s interesting because I think Reid has set it up so that there’s a lot of potential. I guess we’ll see!
I will say, I do have a few qualms about this book. Previous books gave the impression that Troy was a good guy who chose his friends poorly and was negatively influenced as a result. And this book, you start to learn more about why he chose poorly, which I think gives a lot of context, but you also learn that he REALLY engaged in a lot of behavior that’s hurtful and unacceptable. It was really interesting seeing his redemption story because I think it worked for me in a surprising number of ways. So I guess my qualm here is that I didn’t like who Troy was before this book, and I wish he’d never been like that, but I do like getting to understand him better and seeming him try to be better, and I think it’s great to see someone like that get an HEA, too.
Also, while I really liked seeing a prominent male athlete stand up against the protection of an NHL star being accused of raping women and using his platform to speak out, I’m not sure I was entirely comfortable with that being the impetus of Troy ending his friendship with Dallas. Dallas was awful and toxic in a lot of ways beyond just that, and I wish it hadn’t taken rape for Troy to finally realize. Idk. It seemed like it was handled well and it was a great way to touch on how well protected famous athletes are from such allegations, but I still didn’t love that that was the impetus for the whole book.
MID BOOK SPOILERS
I’m also not entirely sure how I feel about the potential plane crash? It was such a traumatic event! It seemed a little extreme and I wonder if there was a better way to accomplish the same thing, but again, I like how it not only pushed Troy and Harris together, it seems like it’s pushing Ilya and Shane to rethink things as well, and it was a nice tie-in to Troy better understanding how brave Ryan was in Tough Guy.
I should also mention, the beginning of this book is depressing. Troy was just in such a dark, unhappy place between his breakup with his boyfriend and the end of his friendship with Dallas and getting traded to a new team he didn’t want to be on and starting to realize a lot of ugly things about himself and dealing with his awful father, I was worried about how on earth he’d possibly get to an HEA! I’m actually a little surprised he didn’t wind up going to therapy, because I think he really could have used it.
But I absolutely adored the found family element of this story and how the team really came together and became a family for Troy and supported him. The way the coach and the team handled finding out that Troy was gay and dating Harris was just so precious! And then their Pride Night! It was just a nonstop overwhelming of feelings, and I adored it. I loved seeing Troy start to look at things differently and realize he doesn’t want to be closeted (and never once considering having Harris hide their relationship) and gradually taking more steps and gaining confidence that coming out as gay was the right thing to do. And the way the fans all treated it? And the team supported him? And he made a point to tell Ilya it was all for him, too, even if the fans didn’t know it? Seriously, it was all too much!!
Glancing back at what I’ve written so far, I noticed that pretty much everything I’ve written about has been relating to Troy, and I think you could argue that this book would be stronger if Harris had more of his own growth. He’s such a great, happy, sunshine-y person who is excellent at his job as a social media manager and is amazingly supportive of Troy and everything he’s going through, but I’m not sure he has much of his own growth throughout the story. I’m not sure what that would like like or how much he really needs it, but it does mean that the focus of the book (at least for me) is a lot more on Troy, and I think that does Harris a disservice, because he is great.
END OF BOOK SPOILERS
Also, I really, really love that there’s not really a third act breakup here. I thought there might be, that Troy would panic about coming out and break up with Harris because of it before they got their HEA together, but that never happened. Instead, Troy was reluctant early on to share his feelings (and I loved seeing him apologize to Harris whenever he made mistakes!), and then wanted some space to figure things out since he was closeted. But once they’re together, they’re TOGETHER through the end of the book, and I loved it! And we really got all of the big emotional moments I was hoping for: Troy apologizing to Ryan, Troy standing up to his dad, Troy getting his Pride Night and getting to see his mom. It was all so, so great.
And of course, returning to this world and getting to see Ilya again made me go back and reread some of my favorite parts of Heated Rivalry, and now I’m so, so excited to get my hands on his and Shane’s sequel. I really hope it doesn’t involve cheating or a breakup or anything and that we get to see the two of them just be happy together. I suppose there should be a conflict of some sort, but honestly, I’m fine if there isn’t! Reid has done a great job of setting up the NHL in her books to be a lot more accepting of queer hockey players, and the end of Role Model makes me feel like it’s possible for Shane and Ilya to get their public HEA and keep their careers, and I can’t wait to see it happen.
Oh, and can Carina PLEASE just print physical copies of this series already??? I was super lucky to get the first three as author copies in a Twitter giveaway, but I desperately need to add Role Model to my collection (and may as well complete the series while I’m at it!).
Have you been looking forward to Role Model, too? I hope you enjoy it as much as I did!
I received an arc of Role Model from the publisher via Netgalley and purchased a finished digital copy.