CM . . . . Volume XV Number 21. . . .June 12, 2009.
Waiting to Score.
J. E. MacLeod.
Lodi, NJ: WestSide Books, 2009.
199 pp., pbk., $16.95.
Grades 8-10 / Ages 13-15.
Review by Darleen Golke.
Reviewed from Advance Proofs.
In hockey, sometimes a good pass, or a set of passes, can be as much fun as scoring. It’s like magic when you skate right through traffic, bouncing the puck of a teammate –– even Mac. Wham! He got a clean poke into an empty net as the goalie dove the crease on a fake. A play that would stick with me.
I fell to the ice, automatically curling up into a fetal position. I couldn’t breathe. In the background I heard a whistle blow, and then the referee was down on his knee, right in my face.
“You okay, kid?” he said.
I couldn’t answer him because I couldn’t catch my breath.
Mac’s face appeared over me. He bent down on one knee. His dark eyes were little slits in his face. I wondered if I was hallucinating. He looked exactly like the devil. He leaned in closer.
“This is just a taste of things to come. Get on my bad side and the team won`t be looking out for you. Accidents are bound to happen,” Mac said.
He stood up, and in the distance, I heard him arguing with the ref, shouting about penalty shots and the unfairness of the hit I’d taken. Bastard.
I lay still. The world whirled around me and I tried to catch my breath and get my wind back.
. . . Mac spoke into my ear. “I know a goon on every team in this league, Chase. You’re going down.”
Zack Chase faces another new town and new school when his mom moves them to her hometown of Haletown, Montana. Zacks’s dad, hockey legend Jeremy Chase, died in a car crash along with a hockey buddy and a couple of groupies before Zack’s birth almost 16 years ago. Mom insists Zack possesses his dad’s talent and wants him “to play pro hockey, like [his] dad;” however, while Zack admires the father he never knew for his hockey prowess, he hates him for the drinking and womanizing, and wonders whether he really wants a future career in professional hockey. “Maybe [hockey] just isn’t as important to me as it is to” her. His extraordinary hockey skills earn him a berth on the local high school team and the moniker “Zack Attack.” Those same skills net him several quirky friends, like Sheila who works at the rink’s concession stand, fellow hockey player David, and eventually Jane, David’s twin, who professes to hate hockey and considers jocks beneath contempt, reflecting the reputation many hockey players garner among their peers.
Zack categorizes his fellow classmates as “the Haves and the Have Nots. There were the Jocks, and the kids who dated them. The Heads smoked pot in the bathrooms and on school grounds. The Arts were drama or rock and roll wannabes. Then there were the token Freaks and Losers, and a whole lot of people in the middle somewhere, all trying to fit in.” At a former school, he and his teammates called the “kind of girls who hang around hockey rinks” Pucks, “blondes and brunettes with tight clothes and made-up eyes. Pucks, hockey groupies, whatever. I kind of thought girls should have better things to do with their time. Giggling and hanging around boys who weren’t very nice to them didn’t strike me as overly ambitious.” Mac, the team captain, a stereotypical hockey tough and bully, throws his weight around literally and figuratively, especially with girls from whom he refuses to accept “no.” Zack finds Mac objectionable enough on ice, but even more so when he catches him at a party accosting Jane, Zack’s love interest.
The partying and drinking disgust Zack as does, at times, his own behaviour. He sees David developing a genuine alcohol problem that comes to a head at another wild party when David becomes violently ill. Zack, with Sheila, Jane, and a couple of hockey buddies’ assistance, gets David home only to be confronted by the parents who refuse to accept anything unusual about David’s behaviour until Jane criticizes them roundly for their neglect and Mrs. Parker discovers she cannot awaken David. Finally, the Parkers act to get help for their troubled son. Ironically, that evening marked Zack’s first, but not last, date with Jane.
After Zack gets nailed by Mac’s goon (excerpt), cracked ribs keep him from playing hockey, allowing him time to develop his relationship with Jane and to indulge his literary interests by getting involved in the school musical. “Secretly,” he admits, “I was kind of glad to be forced off the ice for a couple of weeks.” However, Mac continues to harass Zack off-ice. Zack’s disgust reaches its peak when he discovers Mac raping a very drunken, almost comatose, girl at another wild party. He finally speaks out: “You hear what happens to assholes who have sex with girls against their will, Mac? In most places they call it rape.” To the bystanders, Zack says, “I saw him. It’s pretty much rape if a girl’s too drunk to defend herself.” Sadly, later that evening, the victim commits suicide. underscoring the dangers inherent in the drinking/ partying scene that spawns irresponsible sexual behaviour.
Zack admits, “Hockey flowed in my veins. I tried to deny it sometimes, but the call lingered in my gut, even when I wasn’t on the ice.” After the drama surrounding Mona’s suicide and David’s collapse, Zack realizes he really wants to play hockey and vows, “I’m going to kill [Mac] in a completely legal way.” He returns to the team and plays with determination, showcasing his considerable skills. In the playoff game, Zack pours it on, tying the game and then setting Mac up for the go-ahead goal. When a hockey scout for Boston College Eagles approaches Zack with an offer after the game, Zack leaves his mom to negotiate with the agent while he fulfills his commitment to perform at the school musical opening night.
After careers writing advertising copy and working in sales and marketing, J. E. MacLeod (pen name), decided to indulge her literary passions by writing short stories, romance, and children’s picture books. In her first young adult novel, she captures the teen scene skilfully and realistically. “My teen years overflowed with angst,” and “being a teen was hard work,” she confides. Obviously, her experience provides valuable background for the teen scene she portrays. Secondary character types –– the bully and his followers, the sexual predators and the victims, the artsy crowd, the Goths, the best friend, the love interest –– help underscore the main character’s uniqueness, a handsome athlete comfortable in his own skin, not always behaving perfectly, and not afraid to admit to interests outside hockey. MacLeod allows Zack’s first person voice to reveal his conflict about the game he both loves and hates, about his evolving relationships, and about his coming to terms with life’s complications and complexities. Gritty subjects - alcoholism, bullying, sexual aggression, suicide, parental pressure and neglect, rape, violence –– emerge as the novel unfolds; MacLeod describes them matter-of-factly, without moralizing. She handles presenting the story from a male point of view well, attributing her hockey knowledge to growing up with two brothers who played hockey and a father who coached. MacLeod talked to her “younger brother, Kyle and got some hockey stuff from him. The passing and scoring feelings.” Through Zack’s relationships with his family, his teammates, and his developing friendships, a portrait of a young man making sometimes difficult choices but not afraid to go his own way emerges.
Crisp and smoothly flowing prose, snappy dialogue with graphic modern language, appealing characters, plenty of action, and current, relevant subjects combine in a young adult novel that captures the reader’s interest from the opening paragraph and holds it to the conclusion.
Darleen Golke writes from her home in Abbotsford, BC.
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