This review was first published in Resource Links Magazine, “Canada’s national journal devoted to the review and evaluation of Canadian English and French resources for children and young adults.” It appears in volume 18.3.
Unnaturally for a Canadian, perhaps, I don’t like hockey. I did, however, really like Nathalie Hyde’s Hockey Girl. While it does focus on the sport sufficiently to engage die-hard fans, underneath the excitement of the sport, this novel is more about equity, integrity, and solidarity in all aspects of life.
The story opens with our protagonist, Tara, in the middle of a play: her determination borders on aggression, and her sense of fair play is offended by both the other team’s behaviour and the referee’s bad call. As she sits in the penalty box unjustly, we are introduced to her team’s real antagonists: members of the boys’ hockey league who had goaded the girls into a bet, that whoever comes out higher in their own standings at the end of the season has to play cheerleader to the other team the entire next season. Both the boys and the girls picture the result—the skimpy, over-sexualized outfits—should the girls lose. This is a challenge worth winning, certainly.
The real drama of the story lies, however, in the girls’ fight to keep their team together in a highly patriarchal, hockey-mad town. The boys get all the ice time, and their coach only stays around until the scouts come… then he moves on to coach a more prestigious (male) team. The girls ultimately find the help they need from unsuspected sources, including in Tara’s case from Kit, one of the boys’ team’s best players. The story thus contains an amount of romance appropriate to junior high readers, and the way that Kit and Tara relate to one another is both honest and heartwarming. Both young adults have to contend with unfairness, from both their community and their hockey-obsessed fathers, and Tara learns that not only girls suffer from the worship of machismo endemic in the males of her society. The lessons she learns have an obvious extrapolation to issues in the world at large, and Hyde creates an effective parallel in how portions of the community rally to the girls’ side when their ice-time is taken. While the battle is simplified, the issues are not: Hockey Girl scores a goal for women’s rights specifically and for an increased sense of justice and solidarity in general.