A losing field hockey team is sweating themselves half to death. They are being pummeled by every other group on campus; a collection of high school teams from allover New England living the exciting existence of a pre-college summer program. They haul their broken bodies back to the dorms of the UNH campus, exhausted physically and spiritually. The goalie is DONE with this exhaustion. She wants, needs, and expects more for both herself and her beloved team. She, like many teen girls before and after, makes a deal with the devil.
Well, maybe the devil.
The pact is written in an Emilio Estevez notebook (it is 1989, after all) and one by one the girls (and their token boy, Boy Corey) sign their names in allegiance to Emilio. Then? The magic starts!
This team isn’t just ANY team with a terrible record- they are the Danvers Falcons! Danvers may sound vaguely familiar to you, but if you go by the original name – Salem Village – some bells may begin to ring. Home of the original Salem Witch Trials (and town where many of those accused met their unfortunate ends), Danvers is ready to reclaim it’s stolen glory. These teens won’t be ruined by power- no. They will take it. They’ll make deals: with weird guys, substitute teachers, drunk moms, kid detectives, and possibly the devil themselves.
I wanted so badly to love this book, and for most of it, I really did. I was transported back to my own two-a-day field hockey adventures. I was taping my knees alongside these girls. I was shouting along to fight songs on the bus. I was painting my face and roaring at friends and strangers. I was doing a miserable summer program at a state college, but it was a taste of the grownup life to come. This book was also VERY funny. I was choking back laughter on almost every page, as the narrator switches from teammate to teammate with abandon, and the girls get into all sorts of teenage and paranormal hijinks alike.
Who didn’t think they might have magic p0wers when they were a teen?
The story follows the 1989 season, from pre-season captain’s practices up to the FINAL final match. We never know who is narrating, and the chapters shift the point of view from player to player. Barry addresses religion, being an immigrant, being an outsider, being book-smart, being street-smart, and being a teen in general. The story takes place in ’89, and one could make an argument that the characters are alarmingly “woke” for the time period- but teen girls get an unfairly bad rep. Teen girls will celebrate and protect outsiders more than anyone else- but sometimes Barry circles from support to tokenism without regard.
I loved this story so much…until the last 30 pages. Suddenly we kick into the future. The story is suddenly narrated by the current-day versions of the ’89 team. I was feeling a little cheated, but I could have survived. I could have pulled up my shin guards (ridiculous tan lines be damned) and dealt…..but then.
Lookout, because here there be spoilers:
seriously, here come spoilers.
are you still reading? if you want to read this book, DO NOT KEEP READING!
OK- I trust you – here we go:
A plotline involving an ADULT coach- a male teacher who also is an assistant coach on another team- has been a mystery and kindling throughout. He is on leave for having SOME sort of relationship with SOME student, but we don’t know who or when- just that he’s gone. When we leap into the future, not only do we know WHO the student is (one of our girls, obviously) but the relationship is presented as a GOOD thing. This girl got pregnant while in high school, they have had many more children since then, and now the team is back in time for her wedding. Her wedding that is also celebrating the birth of her grandchildren. Barry goes out of her way to point out that, well, the coach was “only 24” and that the girl was a student but “still 18”, as if that makes it OK. It’s presented as a grand romance when it’s a DISASTER of power plays and boundary crossing.
SPOILER HAVE ENDED!
I wanted to shout about how much I loved this story from the hilltops (in a rhyming cheer, of course) but after the above exposition I was immediately cold. It went from a 5-Star to a “do I even want to talk about this?”
I’m holding onto this 4-star review…for now. I loved the rest of the story so much, but the unforgivable situation at the end (and the attitudes surrounding it) make me very hesitant to make any recommendations.
There is definitely magic in We Ride Upon Sticks– the girls learn to use it wisely, but Barry does not.