REVIEW: The Goal by Elle Kennedy
Dear Elle Kennedy,
Those of us who read The Score, have been waiting to find out just how it was that Tucker’s announcement (that he was to be a dad and his baby mama was Sabrina James) came about. With Tucker’s and Sabrina’s story, The Goal, out now, the wait is finally over.
John Tucker is well known in the rented house he shares with fellow Briar hockey players Garrett Graham, John Logan and Dean Di Laurentis, as being the nurturer. Tucker does the cooking and ensures everyone eats well but he’s otherwise been fairly quiet and largely unknown to series readers. He’s a big guy with auburn/brown hair who, at the start of the book, is rocking a lumberjack style beard (rowr). He’s the odd man out in some ways – he is quieter than the other guys and keeps his cards close to his chest. He also doesn’t plan on having a career in hockey after college. Garrett, Logan and Dean are all off to pro-hockey (if not immediately, then eventually) but Tucker is going to buy a business and seek his fortune there. He loves hockey but he is also using it to get the education he needs to pursue his business dreams.
Sabrina James is an overachiever who has a tense relationship with Dean. She works hard for her results, while holding down two jobs to put herself through college, and seeing Dean get an A because he was, at the time, banging the TA stings and pokes at her sense of (in)justice like a swarm of angry bees. (Dean’s side of the story is told in The Score.) Sabrina and Dean had a drunken hookup way back when but after the TA/grade incident, Sabrina swore off hockey players and has ever since held grudge against Dean. Dean, for his part, is also irrationally mean to and about Sabrina.
Sabrina has a crappy home life. Her dad knocked up her mum and then took off. She doesn’t know who he is. Then her mum married Ray (who I like to call “shitty Ray” because he so is) and then took off and left Sabrina with her nana who mostly did the raising of her and shitty Ray. Shitty Ray, nana and Sabrina all share a run down house in a sketchy area of Boston. For reasons which weren’t quite made clear, shitty Ray and nana are now hooking up (ew ew ew). In order to pay the rent on the house though, they need shitty Ray’s workers compensation benefit money so, as much as he’s disgusting, he’s there to stay.
I had some reservations about the way Sabrina’s life was portrayed. I wondered if perhaps there were too many stereotypes in there? In particular, shitty Ray, had absolutely no redeeming features. None. He was even portrayed as being a welfare sponge. Nana at least had some nuance to her. That said, perhaps it was at least somewhat balanced out by Tucker’s experience – also of struggling for money but with a completely different family dynamic. It also struck me though, that Tucker’s talent for hockey gave him an advantage not available to Sabrina, who had to pay for her education at Briar (whereas Tucker was on a hockey scholarship). Tucker worked very hard of course, but there was maybe some subtext in there about double standards and the way athletes are lauded. (Or, I could be just
making that up reading into things because I recently listened to Missoula: Rape and Justice in a College Town by Jon Krakauer.)
Sabrina has been working for years to achieve one goal. To get out. She loves her nana but she wants more from life than she sees at home. She studies and works and rarely gets a full night’s sleep. The goal has been to get a high enough GPA to get into Harvard after college and then from there to keep working her butt off to get a job in “Big Law”. She’s working hard because she doesn’t want to live in poverty and she doesn’t want to be beholden to anyone else to live well. While she’s not ashamed of her bargain rack clothes, she doesn’t like to stand out because of them and her first meeting at Harvard rubs her lack of funds in her face in ways that surprised me – but I suppose it happens. People can really suck, after all.
Sabrina’s never had a boyfriend. She doesn’t have the time. She does, however, like sex. When she feels the urge and has the time, she will choose an athlete for a hook up to scratch that itch. Her theory is that athletes are made to order for such a task. They have the bodies and stamina she’s looking for. I liked Sabrina’s outlook about sex and the book definitely didn’t slut shame her at all. Tucker knows she has hooked up in the past with both Dean and Beau Maxwell (captain of the football team) but this doesn’t faze him. It’s a complete non-issue. Hooray and huzzah.
For those readers who don’t like references to puck bunnies, there was this:
“Puck bunnies. Hockey groupies. Whatever you want to call them.” She shrugs. “You know, the chicks looking to get nasty with a hockey player.”
“Ah. Gotcha.” I shrug back, because I have nothing against girls who want that. After all, my own requirement for hookups is athletes only.
Sure, Sabrina didn’t call her friend out (which she probably should have) but at least she doesn’t judge the women who are doing a similar thing to her.
Briar is obviously a big campus because even though Tucker has heard of Sabrina James (from Dean) before, he’s never met her. When he and his mate Fitzy are out at a bar one night, he literally sees Sabrina across a crowded room and from then on he is history. She is beautiful and when he approaches her and starts a conversation he also learns she is funny and smart and amazing in all the ways. He also sees in her a vulnerability she tries hard to hide. Sabrina, for her part, learns that Tucker is smooth as molasses and very confident in his charms as well as being a bona fide sweetheart and nice guy.
They have the hottest sex of Sabrina’s life.
“You’re gonna want to brace yourself,” he rasps, “because I’m going to make you come again.”
“You’re so fucking cocky.”
“No. I’m sure. And so are you. Now gimme that sweet pussy and ride my tongue.”
Oh sweet baby Jesus. Sex with Tucker is dirtier and hotter than I thought it would be. He doesn’t look like he’d be this way, but isn’t it always the quiet ones?
Sabrina has no plans for a relationship with anyone, even Tucker. Tucker, on the other hand, has clear intentions but he is very patient and never crosses the line.
“I don’t want to be a distraction, but I do want you. I think there’s something here, but I’m a patient guy and I’ll take what you have right now. I’m not here to add pressure on you or make things harder. I want to ease your load.”
Tucker is the sweetest guy! I just adored him.
Tucker and Sabrina gradually start a sort-of-relationship but they are keeping it quiet because reasons. Then Sabrina realises she is pregnant. That was not in anyone’s plan. What will happen to Sabrina’s goal of Harvard and Big Law? Tucker continues to be amazing. He’s overwhelmed and terrified but he’s totally there for Sabrina – in fact, he’s willing to be more there than she will allow. Sabrina, not unreasonably, has abandonment issues and says she doesn’t believe in love. She hasn’t experienced the kind of unconditional love that Tucker has. He recognises that and is prepared to wait patiently for her to realise he’s not going anywhere and he’s exactly where he wants to be. It takes a long time. That’s not to say that Tucker is always sanguine about it. He gets his feelings hurt and he gets annoyed from time to time, but he’s playing a long game and he knows she’s absolutely the one for him.
The first half (or so) of the book runs along the same timeline as The Score, so the reader sees a little of Tucker’s observations about Dean’s and Allie’s burgeoning relationship. There is also Tucker’s and Sabrina’s reactions to the very sad thing which those of us who read The Score already know about but which I won’t spoil here, just in case not everyone who reads this has read the previous book. Even though I knew it was coming, I sobbed like a sobbing person who sobbed. #stillnotoverit
I enjoyed the humour and banter in The Goal. Sabrina has two good friends at Briar – Carin and Hope, and Tucker’s buddies also feature strongly. There are also cameos from Hannah, Grace and Allie, the heroines from the previous books in the series.
The scenes where Garrett and Logan are competing for the chance to be the baby’s godfather were hilarious (there was wheeze-laughing) – I love the way you write the banter between the guys. Dean showed some of his ass (and not in the good way) in this book but he did eventually come around so I forgave him. I couldn’t tell whether Hollis was joking about playing hockey for “the pussy” (I’m hoping he was) but even so, I didn’t like him as much as Fitzy or Hunter. Hopefully all three will be getting books in future – especially Fitzy (hint hint) and maybe I’ll have a chance to reconsider my early Hollis opinion.
As much as I enjoyed the first two thirds of the book, I felt the story dropped off a bit in the final third. While I understood that the main things stopping Sabrina and Tucker having their HEA was that Sabrina wasn’t trusting of love (her family experience, fairly, did not lead her to believe love was trustworthy) and, that neither was prepared to confront the issue. What was missing for me was Sabrina’s decision to actually trust what she felt for Tucker and that he felt the same way for her. The way it came across on page, Sabrina took steps closer to Tucker because she needed his help with the baby and because of her shitty home life. While I knew that she loved him and he loved her, her actions weren’t necessarily for those reasons and so her sudden decision to go all in was a bit of a surprise. I’d have liked to have known how she got to that emotional point. I can guess, but I’d rather not.
There were some other things which felt underdone or left out. For instance, what happened with Sabrina’s nana? After Sabrina moved out, nana drops out of the picture. There’s nothing about whether nana had any reaction to the circumstances which led to Sabrina leaving and there’s nothing about Sabrina or the baby having an ongoing relationship with her. Did Sabrina decide to cut nana out of her life? Or did nana make that decision? Or was she present in Sabrina’s (and the baby’s) life but it just wasn’t on the page? Also, did Sabrina buy new clothes for Harvard? Or did she have neither the time nor the money to buy any and decided not to? If so, did she decide what other people thought of her wardrobe was none of their damn business or was she just too tired to care? Did she continue to get grief over it? These things were just left and I’d have liked to know how they were worked out, particularly given that they were a big deal in the wider context of the book.
I’d have also liked to have seen a little more about Tucker’s decision making process about which business to invest in – because it was something that was important to him and formed part of his story arc.
Even though the last section of the book wasn’t as strong as the earlier part, I still liked it very much and that was pretty much all down to the main characters (especially Tucker). (Eh, I’m a hero-centric reader. What’re you gonna do?) Tucker is a really good guy and he’s not afraid to go after what he wants – to plan, to wait and to seize the right opportunity without being a dick. He does this in his relationship with Sabrina and he does this with his business. But, when he’s decided, he’s all in. Hero in pursuit is always a win for me. Once Tucker has been with Sabrina he’s ruined for other girls. And he even tells her that as much as she’s the hottest woman he’s ever seen in his life, her brain is even more attractive to him. Seriously, this guy was getting bonus points all over the place.
Sabrina is smart and funny, especially when she lets herself relax a little. Slowly, Tucker draws this out in her more and more. Sabrina is not afraid of doing the hard thing and she’s also not ashamed of taking some pleasure for herself. I liked her very much. Her decision to keep the baby made total sense given how unloved she’d felt most of her life. I liked that abortion was a consideration and that there was no judgement of it as being a perfectly reasonable option however.
I love the, humour, vibe and tone of the Off-Campus series and it remains one of my favourites to read. While not without its flaws, The Goal was nevertheless a winner for me.
Grade: somewhere between a B and a B+.