CM . . .
. Volume XIX Number 4. . . .September 28, 2012
Branko's new to the small town of Morinville, AB, but even he knows that the hockey players are the only ones who get any attention. Even his only friend, Scottie, blogs about the Pelletier brothers' multiple goals on ice. But Branko just wants to make the Edmonton Selects soccer team, dreaming of playing professionally for his native country of Croatia. However, once he makes the team, he finds out he'll be playing back up to Brian, a bully of a boy. It feels to Branko like he'll never be enough to be part of this place.
An authentic portrayal of hockey versus soccer along with a convincing immigrant story mark Playing For Keeps as truly Canadian. It's easy to feel Branko's antipathy towards our nation's sport: "The puck is so small you can't follow it. Everybody moves so quickly you can't follow the plays. And, the guys only play a minute at a time." In contrast, Branko's passion for soccer is clear in the drills he and his father repeat. The cultural link adds another dimension with Branko's father having played for the professional Croatian team. As well, Branko's djed, his grandfather, sends him Croatian sports magazines through the mail, rather than over the Internet, a quirk which makes his djed that much more realistic.
However, the grief his father feels over the death of Branko's mother fails to reach any plausible level for the reader to empathize with. And from there, the problems break down to writing style and dialogue: Brian says, "Branko, I notice that you say 'we' a lot" ; Branko says, "Absolutely not" . Neither suit a 13 year old, nor does a seven sentence soliloquy from Branko in the last chapter on the differences between soccer goaltending and hockey goaltending. In addition, POV switches dot the story; while Branko is usually in control of the narration, readers are occasionally thrown into Scottie's, his father's or even Brian's heads.
The sports action isn't lacking. Sandor wisely refrains from describing every game play by play and instead allows a penalty shootout to take the spotlight. A slow motion atmosphere permeates through the extended scene: "Branko dipped his right shoulder down, ever so slightly. Would the shooter bite? Would he pick up the subtle hint? Branko watched the shooter's eyes. The shooter looked away. I've got him, Branko thought."
Playing For Keeps excels on the sports side, but technical issues keep this novel from being fully enjoyable.
Recommended with reservations.
Yahong Chi is a reader, writer and blogger in Ottawa, ON.
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Copyright © the Manitoba Library Association. Reproduction for personal
use is permitted only if this copyright notice is maintained. Any
other reproduction is prohibited without permission.
Copyright © the Manitoba Library Association. Reproduction for personal use is permitted only if this copyright notice is maintained. Any other reproduction is prohibited without permission.