Contemporary Reviews: Phantom Limbs & The Year We Fell Down

October 19, 2016 by Jenna | 4 stars, ARC Reviews, Double Reviews, Mini Reviews, Reviews

Contemporary Reviews: Phantom Limbs & The Year We Fell DownPhantom Limbs by Paula Garner
Published by Candlewick Press, Walker Books Australia on September 27th 2016
Source: Purchased, Publisher
Genres: Contemporary, Romance, Young Adult
Amazon | Book Depository | Publisher | Angus & Robertson | Booktopia
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How do you move on from an irreplaceable loss? In a poignant debut, a sixteen-year-old boy must learn to swim against an undercurrent of grief—or be swept away by it.

Otis and Meg were inseparable until her family abruptly moved away after the terrible accident that left Otis’s little brother dead and both of their families changed forever. Since then, it’s been three years of radio silence, during which time Otis has become the unlikely protégé of eighteen-year-old Dara—part drill sergeant, part friend—who’s hell-bent on transforming Otis into the Olympic swimmer she can no longer be. But when Otis learns that Meg is coming back to town, he must face some difficult truths about the girl he’s never forgotten and the brother he’s never stopped grieving. As it becomes achingly clear that he and Meg are not the same people they were, Otis must decide what to hold on to and what to leave behind. Quietly affecting, this compulsively readable debut novel captures all the confusion, heartbreak, and fragile hope of three teens struggling to accept profound absences in their lives.

I love a book that deals with grief and Phantom Limbs delivers a wonderful story about grief. What I really loved about it was that it wasn’t dark and heavy, but instead was relatively lighthearted and charming. Rather than solely focusing on grief as a theme, this book also explores friendship and first love and how these things are affected by grief or tragic things that happen in life. It was a novel that was written with great sensitivity and I was able to completely connect with it because of how honest the emotions were.

Phantom Limbs is written from the perspective of Otis, and I was pleasantly surprised by how much I enjoyed reading from his perspective. I’m always extremely wary when it comes to male POVs, especially when there is romance involved because there always tends to be Manic Pixie Dream Girl elements. Phantom Limbs didn’t have this, for which I was extremely grateful. I was a initially worried because Otis seemed to be doing a lot of pining for Meg, his childhood best friend and first love, but Paula Garner definitely managed to steer her story away from being yet another MPDG book. Otis was probably the main reason why I enjoyed this book so much. His voice was funny and relatable and I thought it was an extremely insightful portrayal of the daily life and thoughts of a teenage boy. Otis was a great main character. He was incredibly caring and thoughtful and treated his friends and himself with a lot of respect.

I also thought that the friendships in this book were incredible. My favourite friendship in the book was the one between Otis and Dara, his swimming coach. Dara was a swimming prodigy until she lost her arm in shark attack. She now suffers from phantom pains, feelings of failure and feelings of confusion about her sexual orientation. Otis was there to support Dara through her physical and mental pain even though he often saw her as a drill sergeant who had unrealistic expectations of him. It was really beautiful to see all the things he did for her and all the times he put her needs before the things that he wanted. And of course, I also enjoyed the friendship between Otis and Meg, though I didn’t feel as strongly about it as I did Otis and Dara. It took me a little while to like Meg, mostly because I was anticipating  that she’d be another MPDG but I began to connect with her halfway through the book. I loved the past history and the connection that Otis and Meg had, and I really enjoyed watching them gradually reconnect and let each other in.


I thought Phantom Limbs was a fantastic debut novel. It was thoughtful and sensitive and had a perfect balance of grief, friendship and first love.

Rating: 4 out of 5


Thanks to Walker Books Australia for sending a review copy!

Contemporary Reviews: Phantom Limbs & The Year We Fell DownThe Year We Fell Down (The Ivy Years, #1) by Sarina Bowen
Series: The Ivy Years #1
Published by Smashwords on April 4th 2014
Source: Purchased
Genres: Contemporary, New Adult, Romance
Amazon | Book Depository | Angus & Robertson | Booktopia
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The sport she loves is out of reach. The boy she loves has someone else. What now?

She expected to start Harkness College as a varsity ice hockey player. But a serious accident means that Corey Callahan will start school in a wheelchair instead.

Across the hall, in the other handicapped-accessible dorm room, lives the too-delicious-to-be real Adam Hartley, another would-be hockey star with his leg broken in two places. He’s way out of Corey’s league. Also, he’s taken.

Nevertheless, an unlikely alliance blooms between Corey and Hartley in the “gimp ghetto” of McHerrin Hall. Over tequila, perilously balanced dining hall trays, and video games, the two cope with disappointments that nobody else understands.

They’re just friends, of course, until one night when things fall apart. Or fall together. All Corey knows is that she’s falling. Hard.

But will Hartley set aside his trophy girl to love someone as broken as Corey? If he won’t, she will need to find the courage to make a life for herself at Harkness — one which does not revolve around the sport she can no longer play, or the brown-eyed boy who’s afraid to love her back.

I read very little new adult fiction because I feel like most of the ones that I have read have all had similar themes and concepts. However, The Year We Fell Down came highly recommended to me and I thought I would check it out because I was intrigued by the fact that both the main character and the love interest had physical disabilities. I thought this element of the book was executed extremely well. The novel made me consider things about disabilities and accessibility that I’ve never given a second thought. It was incorporated into the book in a way that felt very genuine and thoughtful and I thought it worked really well.

Sports books are not my thing and I know close to nothing about ice hockey (sorry, we don’t do winter sports things here in Australia), but I have to admit that I quite enjoyed it. All of the hockey references flew over my head but I didn’t mind that there were a lot of references because I found that it injected a lot of fun into the book. It was the main thing that Corey, our main character, and Hartley, her hot neighbour, had in common and I loved watching them interact because of hockey, despite neither of them being able to play.

Corey and Hartley had some really good banter together and I liked their relationship. However, there is some cheating in this book and it put a bit of a sour taste in my mouth. I really dislike the trope where the love interest has a bitchy and rude girlfriend who’s not right for him and isn’t really even in the story… but they’re still together. It’s always been my opinion that if a character isn’t even in the book, they shouldn’t be there at all. I just didn’t like the “he’s taken” aspect of the book very much because it was obvious that Corey was much better to and for Hartley than his actual girlfriend and she didn’t need to be in the book in the first place. End rant.


The Year We Fell Down was a very quick read and I enjoyed it for the most part. I had some issues with the romance and the cheating in the story but I thought it ended in a really heartwarming way. I also enjoyed some of the side characters and I’m excited to pick up some of the other books in the series so that I can read about them.

Rating: 3.5 out of 5



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Jenna is an Aussie blogger and reader who loves to indulge in great books and great food. She is a doctor (of philosophy) and can usually be found fangirling about something, devouring delicious food, or taking a nap. You can find her on Twitter @readwithjenna and on Instagram @readingwithjenna.

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18 responses to “Contemporary Reviews: Phantom Limbs & The Year We Fell Down

    • I'm not very good at connecting with male POVs either, so I was surprised by how much I enjoyed Phantom Limbs. Definitely let me know your NA recommendations! I'm keen to read more good ones as I've always kind of avoided that category.

  1. Somewhat Reserved

    Both seem like incredibly interesting books but I definitely prefer Phantom Limbs because The Year We Fell down has cheating in it and that mean girlfriend stereotype which I also hate.

    • Yeah the mean girlfriend trope is one that I'm particularly tired of. I really don't understand why a mean girlfriend character needs to be added to the story when she barely appears in it anyway.

  2. I am so glad that you enjoyed Phantom Limbs so much too! It was such a win for me, I think it was a really strong debut too. And I totally agree, I was more invested in Dara and Otis too- especially at first, just because they were such close friends, and I was sure I was going to hate Meg (even though I didn't end up hating her at all hhaha). I haven't heard of The Year We Fell Down, but I DO like the idea of a disability being handled well, especially in NA which can be so… well, you know hahha. I don't outright hate cheating in books, but I also dont' like the whole trope of the girlfriend like, being the "reason" for cheating. That never sits well with me either. Fabulous reviews!
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    • Eeeep, I'm extremely late with this reply but I'm so happy that you also enjoyed Phantom Limbs. It's a bit of an underrated book but I loved almost everything about it. It's definitely one of the better contemporary releases of this year in my opinion! I really liked The Year We Fell Down because of the disability aspect. I binge read the rest of the series and I liked the diversity the author put into each of her stories.

    • Ahhh new adult is a bit hit and miss but I really liked The Year We Fell Down. It wasn't my favourite of the companion series but I liked the disability that was in the book. And the ice hockey was kind of interesting (though I realised after recently visiting Canada, that it's just hockey and not ice hockey HAHA).

  3. Read Diverse Books

    I didn't know who Paula Garnet was until I attended this amazing panel earlier this month at the Texas Teen Book Festival. She was one of the panelist and I loved her answers and the sound of her book!! I immediately added it to my TBR so I'm glad to hear you liked it. 😀
    My recent post The Value In Saying “Latinx”

    • I love when an author is able to convince you to read their book because they're a wonderful person in real life! I really loved Phantom Limbs and I hope you get to read it soon!

  4. Marianne @ Boricuan Bookworms

    OOOHHH I'm actually really interested in both. It's hard to find NA books with diversity, so I definitely want to check it out. Plus Phantom Limbs sonds great and upbeat. Thank you for the reviews!

    • Yeah I surprised myself with how much I enjoyed The Year We Fell Down. I ended up finishing the rest of the books in the series and enjoyed them all. I kinda became a bit obsessed with them HAHA.

  5. Kelly

    I loved both of these reviews! I have a copy of Phantom Limbs, but I haven't gotten the chance to read it yet…really loving the synopsis of it. I always thought k was weird, liking books that deal with grief…good to know I'm not alone!

    I've never heard of The Year we Fell Down, but that sounds like a really great read, too. Going to have to look into this one. Thanks for sharing!
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    • Thank you so much! Phantom Limbs is a pretty quick read and it has a lot of really great elements. There was a perfect balance in the themes that it explored and I just loved the main character's voice! Oh man, you are definitely not alone in liking books about grief. I love seeing how different authors tackle the theme and I especially appreciate it when authors can explore it effectively without all the emotional blackmail that makes you enjoy the book just because it made you ugly cry.

      I hadn't heard of The Year We Fell Down until last week either! I don't really read a lot of new adult so I guess most titles are new to me. A lot of people seemed to love this author and this companion series though so I thought I'd check it out. Plus this first book was $0.99 on iBooks!

    • It is definitely a lighter book about grief. It's not one that's going to make you ugly cry, but it still manages to explore the theme just as effectively, which I think is even more masterful!

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