‘The Graham Effect’ book review: Elle Kennedy makes magic at Briar University once again

The Graham Effect brings back all the best parts of the Off Campus and Briar U series, but reinvigorates this setting for a whole new generation of love stories.

I started reading Elle Kennedy’s books with The Deal many many years ago, and now I’ve enjoyed two full series-worth of this incredible world. The Graham Effect brings us back to a re-invented Briar, and I could not be more on board for any and all of the books in this next-generation series.

I can’t say I’ve read a lot of next generation series, but the ones I have in the past have always been a fun way to revisit favorite characters without having to stir up unnecessary drama. Hannah and Garrett are the founding members of the Off Campus series, and to see them grown up, still very much in love, and happily raising their twins to embrace their passions and live life full speed ahead feels like an undeserved gift. Elle has really treated us to another chapter of their happily ever after and I could not be more greatful to have the chance to see it.

Gigi is a spectacular woman to kick off this new collection of stories. In all our time at Briar, we haven’t spent tons of it with another female athlete, especially not a hockey player. Learning about a few of the inequalities of the sport, as well as seeing how Gigi tempers her expectations for herself for the future, really put into place how hard it is to be a female following in her father’s footsteps. It’s not as easy for her to try and live up to her father’s immense shadow, even if she doesn’t feel pressure from him to be his equal, but in order to try and pave her own path she has to set goals that achievable and lofty enough to keep her striving for greatness. She doesn’t dream of the NHL or reaching his level of fame. She has Olympic gold on her mind, and it just so happens to be the one thing her father doesn’t have in his trophy case. So, naturally, it’s the summit Gigi can’t help but keep climbing toward.

Ryder’s story, for me, was unique and special and it made his journey to loving Gigi more precious with each step. I loved watching him accept his attachment to her, first denying it of course, but eventually succumbing to her gravity. They are such a great complement for each other, and watching them make space for the other to work out their feelings and hangups as they come along was exceedingly compelling. Ryder, of course, had a much more difficult childhood than Gigi, and he thought the only way to be happy in life was to shove it into the past and leave it there. However, meeting Gigi and seeing her verve for life, Ryder is challenged to make peace with the unsettled parts of his past, and allow her to love him and know him in equal measure.

the graham effect

Also, I cannot leave this The Graham Effect review without a mention of Ryder’s quickly forming relationship with Gigi’s mom. Hannah can see the damage on Ryder’s soul so clearly, and she goes out of her way to be approachable and welcoming to him. As she sees the love between Gigi and Ryder, she makes a point to mother him in all the ways his didn’t get the chance. This part of the story is quite possibly even more beautiful than the love story as a whole. Ryder has survived his life so far, but has a whole lot of truly living left to do, and with a heaping dose of family by his side from here on out.

Gigi and Ryder are absolute fire on the page. I ate up The Graham Effect‘s almost 500 pages, as we get to know the man beneath the surface of Luke Ryder and the complicated woman who fights to bring the best Gigi Graham to the world. We read as they move from acquaintances to friends, from friends to something more, and from that to stable and enduring love. I absolutely cannot wait to see how these two might continue to pop up as this series progresses, as well as all the other cameos that feel destined to come.

We also meet a whole new cast of characters in The Graham Effect. Gigi has a couple of best friends who seem to be on the lookout for love. Diana and Mya could definitely make some fascinating female main characters in the future, but so could any and all of Gigi’s female cousins and don’t even get me started on her teammates. Only time and the speed of Elle’s pen will tell us who gets the main character treatment. The men’s hockey team at Briar is made up of a true cast of characters. Will and Beckett definitely have something brewing there, and I would be lying if I wasn’t hoping to get a glimpse at their future, but there’s also Gigi’s ex, Case, as well as Shane and all the rest. And don’t forget Wyatt Graham, who takes after his mother and her musically moody ways.

Mostly, The Graham Effect reminded me just how much I love Briar University and all the stories that have been borne from its setting. I am so eager to find time to go back and experience them all again. It’s been far too long since I revisited The Deal and after seeing Garrett and Wellsy through Gigi and Ryder’s eyes, I am beyond motivated to fit it into my TBR very soon.

‘The Graham Effect’ by Elle Kennedy published on October 31, 2023.

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