Thoughts On: Revisiting a Book Ten Years Later

“Thoughts On” is a monthly feature on thewasofshall where I give my (often rambling) thoughts on a topic relevant to reading, literature, or the book business. To see previous (and future) topics, click here. To participate, scroll all the way down.

thepenaltyboxWhen I was a sophomore in high school, I discovered romance novels. (As you do.) Most of them came from a tiny corner of my town’s library, tucked into the paperback section and surrounded by mysteries and Harlequin-esque mass market paperbacks. I was a cover snob even at fifteen, and I was either so appalled by the aesthetics of about 80% of the collection or just couldn’t yet admit that I actually might like romance as a genre that I gravitated to only a couple of authors by the time I’d made it to senior year: Carly Phillips, author of the Hot Zone series (which was then not even a trilogy); Rachel Gibson and her Chinooks Hockey Team series (which was then only a trilogy); and Deirdre Martin, who’s novel The Penalty Box was the latest in her New York Blades series. (I know… I feel old thinking about the good old days of the early aughts.) What drew me to these books remains a mystery. The cover font? The minimal graphics? The tantalizing hint of grown-up relationships? And why this one specific book that I still remember reading more than a decade later?

The Penalty Box revolves around 28-year-old Katie, back in her small town to a) attend her ten-year high school reunion and b) help take care of her nephew while her sister’s in rehab. The conflict (and a memorable first scene with a little black dress) arises because Katie’s lost a lot of weight and wants to show up the girls who picked on her in high school – but also show off to her high school crush, who has had one too many concussions from playing hockey and now runs the townie bar called – you guessed it – The Penalty Box. Hijinks ensue.

What kills me about this book – and why I’m so focused on it now, in 2016 – is that I’m 28 and my ten-year high school reunion is just around the corner (like, literally this month). In high school, I was fat, a nerd, and had a serious crush on someone starting in the middle of my junior year. (Katie and I could be twins, y’all.) I always (ALWAYS) assumed that, if I didn’t attend my five-year reunion, I would at least show up at my tenth – thin and confident and ready to flirt with Crush and somehow, I don’t know, do something about my ten years of pining (#ugh)… but then two things happened in quick succession:

  1. I received Facebook notifications from my graduating class about our impending ten-year reunion (OMG I’M ALMOST THIRTY STAPH)
  2. I did a little bit of digging and found Crush’s Facebook profile and it is very clear that he’s dating someone and also very clear that staring into his digital face does nothing for me anymore (when did that happen??)

Somewhere along the way, I realized that thin does not always mean confident – nor does confident have to mean thin – but sitting in the back of my brain was The Penalty Box, one of the first novels I read that I felt might actually happen to me – the perfect end to a “what if?” a decade in the making. Expect that, in less than four weeks, it will no longer be my future. I don’t want to go to my high school reunion, nor, really, do I want to spend any more time thinking about what could have been – at fifteen or at 28.

I haven’t decided if I’m going to re-read The Penalty Box. Not yet, anyway. I’m not ready to revisit something that might not hold up to my own expectations. Nor, though, am I willing to say goodbye to that fifteen-year-old who saw her own future as something very, very bright.

Have your own thoughts on revisiting a book after a long absence? Share them! Post them to your blog, link back to this post, and then comment letting me know!

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