Biblioracle: ‘Icebreaker’ went viral on BookTok. But is it a hockey romance I would recommend?

Normally, I don’t do romance. Just ask Mrs. Biblioracle.


But seriously folks, romance is not a genre in which I do much reading at all, which in fact makes me an outlier when it comes to readers in general, as year-after-year, romance is by far the leading category in book sales.

Every so often, I try to get up to speed on at least a small portion of what’s happening in the romance world. Given my lifetime hockey fandom, I decided to explore the relatively new and hugely popular subgenre of “hockey romance.”

A search for “hockey romance” on any bookselling site will turn up literally thousands of books with titles like “Meet Me in the Penalty Box,” “Totally Pucked” and “Pucking Around.” It’s enough to make you feel like the genre spawned primarily because hockey terminology makes for good puns.

Most of the books follow a standard romance trope such as “friends to lovers” or “enemies to lovers,” only with some hockey-related twists thrown in. To dive deeper, I decided to read what I believe to be the bestselling hockey romance novel of all time, “Icebreaker” by Hannah Grace.

“Icebreaker” is told from the alternating viewpoints of Anastasia Allen and Nate Hawkins, both students at the University of California at Maple Hills — she an aspiring pairs figure skater, he the captain of the hockey team. When one of the university’s two rinks is disabled by sabotage, they must collaborate on finding ways for both the figure skaters and hockey players to get sufficient ice time in order to pursue their dreams of Olympic gold and pro-hockey stardom.

“Icebreaker” found favor in the #BookTok community, driving viral sales, and you can see why. The novel is generous to its characters, giving them space to articulate their deepest hopes and dreams and then the chance to realize them. The men and women in the book respect each other as people, but also can’t keep their hands off each other.

Perhaps it is unfair of me to hold “Icebreaker” to standards of accuracy around high-level sports, but there are some issues. Collegiate figure skating is not a gateway to the Olympics, and Anastasia’s specialty (pairs) isn’t a category in college competition. California is not a hotbed of college hockey. The California setting of “Icebreaker” seems to primarily function as an excuse for the hockey players to have tanned abs when they take off their shirts, rather than having the usual hockey player pasty-skinned look.

Those of us in Generation X will recognize a core plot twist in “Icebreaker” as the central premise of the legendary film “Cutting Edge” starring D.B. Sweeney as a hockey player who gets paired with figure skater Moira Kelly in which skate blades and sparks fly. It didn’t make a ton of sense in the movie either.

“Icebreaker” originated on the storytelling platform Wattpad, which prioritizes serialized fiction, making for a series of “and then” plot points where literally anything could happen, and in “Icebreaker” lots happens, including a number of steamy sexual encounters between Anastasia and Nate.

“Icebreaker” is ultimately so sprawling that it becomes exhausting as the story refuses to resolve, likely a product of its Wattpad origins.

Is it a good romance that I’d recommend? I’m not a genre expert, but my answer is no.

Reading “Icebreaker” I started to believe that there must be a hockey romance out there that takes the hockey part more seriously and attempts to tell us something more about the spirit of playing hockey and what it does for a person than simply giving one a six-pack that women will go bonkers over.

My search continues.

John Warner is the author of “Why They Can’t Write: Killing the Five-Paragraph Essay and Other Necessities.”

Twitter @biblioracle

Book recommendations from the Biblioracle

John Warner tells you what to read based on the last five books you’ve read.

1. “I Have Some Questions for You” by Rebecca Makkai

2. “Babel” by R.F. Kuang

3. “Futuristic Violence and Fancy Suits” by David Wong

4. “Spells for Forgetting” by Adrienne Young

5. “Zoey Punches the Future in the Dick” by David Wong

— Lauren G., Chicago

I think Lauren will enjoy the science fiction suspense of Blake Crouch’s “Dark Matter.”

1. “The Lincoln Highway” by Amor Towles

2. “The Book of Goose” by Yiyun Li

3. “The Heart’s Invisible Furies” by John Boyne

4. “Skippy Dies” by Paul Murray

5. “The Namesake” by Jhumpa Lahiri

— Tim M., Downers Grove

Ben Lerner’s “10:04″ is coming up on a decade old, but it still feels prophetic about what we’re facing in the world today. I think it’s a good fit for Tim.

1. “Tomorrow, and Tomorrow, and Tomorrow” by Gabrielle Zevin

2. “Tom Lake” by Ann Patchett

3. “David Copperfield” by Charles Dickens

4. “Anna Karenina” by Leo Tolstoy

5. “We Must Not Think of Ourselves” by Lauren Grodstein

— Betsy P., Chicago

Both classic and contemporary in this list makes it seem like I couldn’t go wrong. I’m going with a book that’s contemporary, but also should be viewed as a classic, “White Teeth” by Zadie Smith.

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