by Hannah Grace
Warning: Unmarked Spoilers
I knew very little about this book when I bought it. A few readers I follow on BookTok compared its plot to the movie The Cutting Edge, which I LOVED when I was younger. It is my OG enemies-to-lovers sports romance, so of course I immediately one-clicked Icebreaker.
I went into it expecting a cute New Adult rom-com with plenty of spicy scenes because that’s all anyone talked about on social media. That’s not what this book is.
First off, it doesn’t come with any trigger warnings, and it really needs to. This is one of the most troubling cases of emotional abuse I’ve read in a long, long time, and I had serious issues finishing it because I’ve watched an immediate family member fall victim to this kind of abuse and it was almost portrayed too well.
And no, the abuser isn’t the male lead, Nate, but the female lead, Anastasia’s, skating partner, Aaron. At first he’s presented as nothing but a platonic friend, but pretty quickly you realize that there’s something off with him and their alleged friendship.
Red flag number 1: In the beginning of the book, Anastasia is friends-with-benefits with a lovely basketball player (team captain too) named Ryan – one of the parts I did like about this book was the sex positivity and representation – and Aaron is an ass to him and clearly jealous of their relationship.
Red flag number 2: Anastasia meets Nate, the eventual male lead and captain of the hockey team. At a house party, she uses Nate’s bathroom, and when she gets back downstairs, with him in tow, Aaron insinuates they had sex. She says they didn’t and Aaron makes a derogatory, slut-shamming comment about her collecting team captains like they’re Pokemon.
Red flag number 3: He talks shit about her to everyone else and then is nice to her face and gaslights her about it.
Red flag number 4: He constantly criticizes her food choices, complaining that if she gains any weight, he won’t be able to lift her. You realize this is nothing but another means to control her when Nate later looks at her food plan – that Aaron made for her – and tells her she’s drastically under-eating and that Aaron’s complaints about her weight are bullshit since Nate regularly watches Aaron lift twice Anastasia’s weight in the gym.
Red flags number 5-100: Aaron realizes he’s losing Anastasia to Nate and hurts himself, blaming Nate. Aaron continues to shame, gaslight, and manipulate Anastasia. Aaron tries to hurt Nate. Aaron crashes a hockey party and starts a fight. Aaron – you get the idea at this point. It went on and on and on.
The hardest part of all this isn’t the emotional abuse itself but that Anastasia is his perfect victim. Half of the hurtful things he says are to her face, and yet she forgives him multiple times, takes his side, defends him to others, and believes him over literally everyone else when he is clearly in the wrong and manipulating her.
It lasted far too long and sucked all enjoyment out of this book for me by the end. Especially when Aaron’s behavior only escalated and she still goes back to him and partners with him when he’s recovered from his injury.
What makes her finally break away? Him kissing her. Not all the horrible things he said and did, but him making a pass at her. What kind of message is this? Non-stop emotional abuse for years on end is fine, but a single unwanted sexual advance is where the line is drawn?
I am in no way trying to victim blame Anastasia here. In fact, I think it just hit too close to home and mirrored what I’ve seen in real life. My issue with this book isn’t that Anastasia fell victim to it for so long; it was that there wasn’t ever really a reckoning. The kissing scene happens in the second to last chapter, so there’s no time left to depict Anastasia’s recovery from what Aaron did to her (emotionally, or the fact that she now has disordered eating because of it) and almost zero page space devoted to her finally looking back and seeing the abuse for what it was. She just moves on with Nate, and in the epilogue everything is fine and they get their happily ever after.
This makes it seem shallow, like the author didn’t realize the importance of what they were writing – that it was only added for the drama.
Aside from the abuse, this book really struggled with pacing issues. Nate and Anastasia have sex relatively early, so when they partner for skating practice while Aaron is out with his self-inflicted injury and they decide they need to just be friends, the whole will-they/won’t-they tension is lacking because they already have.
About halfway through the book, the them-as-skating-partners plot falls completely to the wayside in favor of partying, Aaron’s bullshit, sex, and family visits. So many of these scenes were extraneous, or did nothing to move the plot forward and could have been cut, making this about 100 pages longer than it should be.
The book blurb makes this seem like The Cutting Edge goes to college, but I think there’s a whopping THREE scenes of Nate and Anastasia practicing together. There are about 50 scenes depicting Aaron’s abuse. So that makes this a book about a young figure skater being abused by her partner more than anything else, and that’s why there needed to be something said in the blurb and a trigger warning at the beginning.