Welcome to Juniper Falls, Minnesota, a small town obsessed with hockey. Who cares about the football or basketball team? The entire town loves winter: hockey season. But playing hockey when the entire town is watching adds a lot of stress for these students.
These three books can be read on their own. However, you’ll enjoy them more if you read them in order. The characters do crossover, adding to their overall development.
1. Off the Ice
Claire O’Connor never fit in with her peers. That’s why she’s leaving high school early for a dual enrollment program at Northwestern for talented performing arts students.
The night before she leaves, her friends throw a party that most of the school attends. There she sees her best friend’s younger brother Tate Tanley. Something happens that night between them…something they won’t speak about for another year.
Fast forward one year in the future. Claire’s back in Juniper Falls and taking a semester off from school to help run the family business, a tavern right next to the hockey rink. She didn’t expect to come back and see that little Tate, now completely grown up and a star on the varsity hockey team.
Tate’s life isn’t perfect though. He just broke up with his girlfriend Haley, who won’t take no for an answer. His sister is off at college, his mom remarried and he now lives with a stepdad and stepsister. His childhood crush Claire is back, but it’s only because her dad is sick. He doesn’t want to get too attached because he knows soon she’ll be gone.
Off the Ice was better than expected. We don’t want to give too much away, but we enjoyed the fact that the secret Tate and Claire share is not about a hookup. It has to do with Tate’s relationship with his father and the problems between them.
Claire and Tate faced obstacles that were tough, but also realistic. Their relationship was super sweet. However, this isn’t just a light and fluffy YA contemporary. They both face tough family situations and helped each other move forward. They are able to use their relationship to face tough circumstances together and be an amazing couple in the process.
Haley also surprisingly became a better character. While at first she seemed like a stereotypical popular cheerleader, she had a lot more depth than we initially gave her credit for. We can’t say the same for some of her friends though.
Another great character was Tate’s stepdad. We enjoyed watching them become closer because it was exactly what Tate needed. The two bonded and he finally found the fatherly attention and support that he’d been craving.
The story is written with dual POVs, which gave us better insight into these characters. Hockey is a big part of the story because that’s the big focus of this town, which also led to a lot of stress for Tate.
2. Breaking the Ice
Haley’s story comes to the forefront in Breaking the Ice. The Princess and head cheerleader of Juniper Falls failed out of civics. She’s spending her summer retaking it so she can save her GPA.
Fletcher Scott keeps to himself because he can’t stand being part of the Juniper Falls rumor mill. Despite only playing for a total of 30 seconds on the varsity hockey team, he finds himself wanting to be part of the team…even if he doesn’t care for the people. To have enough room to take more college classes during the year, he enrolls in summer civics to be an overachiever.
Haley needs to get an A in this class, so she coerces Fletch into being her project partner. But there is a lot of stuff about him she doesn’t know. The mysterious guy from just outside of town has a secret job, an ostracized family and a younger cousin who happens to fit in with the hockey guys.
Determined to show that she’s more than just a cheerleader, Haley attempts to prove she can do the work. But Fletch keeps everyone in his life at a distance. Haley might be relentless enough to see him beyond his outward exterior.
Haley’s character got even better in book 2 and the reader can see her as a complex person. We enjoyed the fact that she maintained a friendship with Claire from the previous book. Haley wants to better her life and it felt authentic to us, even if some of her friends are still obnoxious.
Fletch’s character was all about surprises. Cross did a good job of explaining difficult food allergies and playing a sport with asthma. This causes Fletch to not trust anyone. He’s also been jaded from a past crush that hasn’t gone anywhere…meaning he isn’t looking for a real relationship.
We did feel that Fletch’s secret job was a tad unbelievable. It did lead to some hilarious encounters though, so we did forgive it. Haley’s determination to learn all of Fletch’s secrets provides great comical relief to the more serious aspects of the story.
While this is a fun read, it’s probably our least favorite of the three books. Fletch and Haley’s chemistry wasn’t as convincing as we would have liked. Tate and Claire are the better couple. We also felt like it ended abruptly and we wanted to know what happened next.
Despite having less chemistry, we had fun reading about Fletch and Haley’s summer vacation. It got us excited for On Thin Ice because we’d get to return to Juniper Falls.
3. On Thin Ice
Jake Hammond, aka the Prince of Juniper Falls, is the star of the hockey team and destined for greatness. He hasn’t had time for relationships or any distraction from his goal to go pro. Being the star is more pressure than he lets on.
Brooke moved to Juniper Falls from Texes. Even though it’s where her mom grew up, she doesn’t know how to fit in until she signs up for the new girls high school hockey team. Hockey has always only been for the guys by the time high school rolls around, but Brooke is determined to learn and be part of real team. Ever since her dad went to prison and her mom became depressed, Brooke’s been searching for friendship.
One night when Brooke goes for a run in the woods, she comes across popular Jake and the rest of the senior varsity guys. Everyone is there except for Fletch, who doesn’t know about this tradition. All the freshmen boys stand in a row and she knows something bad is going to happen.
Jake never meant for it to get out of hand, he didn’t want to be there that night. After some peer pressure, Jake participates in something that get himself injured and almost kills a freshman boy. Only one person outside the hockey team knows the truth.
In one night, Jake sees his future slip away and the family of the freshman boy wants justice. When your uncle is the town sheriff, he can pick a punishment: be the assistant coach to the girls hockey team. Brooke and Jake are forced to spend every day together on the rink. Can the two overcome their pasts and let each other in?
This is easily the best one in the series based on chemistry alone. We expect many YA fans to fall for Jake Hammond’s charm. Brooke at first thinks he’s another popular jerk, but the more time the two spends, she learns there is a lot more to him than just hockey.
After the terrible accident, they are determined to change the course of hockey in Juniper Falls by getting rid of the abusive culture. Jake enlists fellow hockey players, such as Tate and Fletch, to go in front of the school board and speak about the toxicity brought on by the coach.
The fact that Jake and Brooke fought to make changes in the small town added to their romance. They truly supported each other through all of the tough times. Everything for them is at stake, Brooke’s mother’s health, Jake’s hockey career and whether the two will face consequences for witnessing what happened to the freshman boy.
Another aspect we loved was the female hockey player. It’s such a typical trope for bad boy hockey player to fall for the beautiful good girl. Not Brooke! She tough, tenacious and ready to show Juniper Falls that its time to support these badass ladies.
Again, we saw the past character make cameos and enjoyed catching up on their lives. We were sad that our time spent in Juniper Falls, Minnesota is over, but the crazy small town did not disappoint in the romance department. Go read this awesome series that tackles love, hardships and the stress of competitive sports.