CM . . .
. Volume XIII Number 14 . . . . March 2, 2007
All-Star Pride. (Orca Sports).
Victoria, BC: Orca, 2006.
170 pp., pbk., $9.95.
Russia (Federation)-Social conditions-1991-
Grades 4-7 / Ages 9-12.
Review by Laura Ludtke.
I have not picked up a Sigmund Brouwer novel since I was in about the fifth-grade. For me, that was the age when I transcended between the genres of pre-teen and teen fiction. I was presently surprised, however, when I picked up All-Star Pride to be reminded of how much I enjoyed reading his fiction in my youth.
Although Sigmund Brouwer has been a busy writer since All-Star Pride was first published in 1995 (for instance, he has written more than two dozen (!!) books for kids and adults), he has made some effort to update the book.
Hog Burnell, a teenager from the Canadian prairies, plays left-wing for an "All-Star" WHL (Western Hockey League, which includes both Canadians and Americans) team going to Russia to play in the East versus West 'Shootout,' a winner-takes-all (the prize is $100,000.00!) televised series to be broadcast in North America. Hog hopes to rise to fame in this series so that he will be drafted into the NHL (National Hockey League). Hog manages to fall in with the shifty team bully, Chandler Harris, against his will after being the victim of a harmless prank on the flight to Russia and an accomplice in Chandler's midnight activities. Chandler implies that other than winning the hockey tournament, "there are other ways to make money here. Tons more money."
Hog very quickly realizes that the hockey tournament is not what it appears to be: there is pressure from the tournament's organizer, Matthew Martin Henley, not just to play great hockey, but to make great TV; Chandler takes Hog along as a 'bodyguard' to Moscow's 'black-market' to deliver a mysterious package with the help of the team's translator, Nadia. At the 'black-market,' they meet Mr. Eyepatch, the leader of a shady art-smuggling ring. Next, the team travels to St. Petersburg where Hog is injured by his Russian equivalent, Klomysyk. This gives Hog further opportunity to get tangled up in the dark underworld of Nadia and Chandler's Russian.
Nadia and Hog become friends, and he attempts to protect her from an assault by Mr. Eyepatch.
The plot becomes more complex as U.S. Customs officers are introduced into the mix on the train back to Moscow for the final game. I won't give away the ending, but Hog proves to be incredibly loyal to his friend Nadia and extremely clever in how he reveals the ulterior motives of Chandler.
Brouwer excels at descriptions of the hockey matches (you can tell he's a fan!):
I let myself slowly drift up the ice towards the centreline. I wanted a good close-up look at these Russian skaters.
They were slick, shifting and sliding as they passed the puck around. Their goalie looked sharp too as he bounced to his knees and popped back up again to make save after save on warm-up shots coming at him from all angles.
I reached the centreline and had to turn hard to keep from going into the Russian half. I skated slowly along the centreline toward the other side of the rink, trying to learn as much as I could about these Russian all-stars cruising around their end of the ice.
His sketch of Moscow, Russia, at 9 o'clock, is more of a caricature than a compelling description of a culturally complex foreign land.
It seemed like the twilight zone.
Beggarwomen on street corners wore mufflers across their faces and stuck out bony hands to plead for money. Greasy-haired children with dead faces sat on the curbs of underpasses. Old men slept in doorways beneath strips of cardboard.
This form of stereotyping is prolific throughout the novel, but it is not an impediment since it is a part of Brouwer's characterization of Hog Burnell; it is a successful attempt to represent how one of his intended readers might think about the situation. Hog's naivety dissipates as the novel progresses and the events he is exposed to become progressively more foreign. Trying to reason out the complexity of the art-smuggling scam, Hog wonders "how could any person make sense out of this, let alone a big, battered hockey player like me whose job never depended on thinking."
Another of Brouwer's fortes is character description. My favourite one is of Clint Bowers, one of the U.S. Customs officers who is involved in the art-smuggling scam. He is described as being:
tall and snake skinny. His hair was greased back, dark brown with strands of grey. His nose was like a popsicle stick turned sideways and stuck into his face. He wore a dark-gray suit, but instead of dress shoes he had on shiny, buffed cowboy boots.
One of the plot's weak points is the backstory of Hog's character. With only a few allusions to his more than conservative economic lifestyle and one mention of his father's being in a wheelchair (this is also where his father's hatred of the 'Ruskies' and 'Commies' is revealed), readers are suddenly thrust into the reality of Hog's sorrow-filled life near the close of the novel. His father was paralyzed in a farming accident and has been depressed for years ever since then. Hockey is Hog's escape from his father's depression and from his life of poverty, and yet it is also his connection to his father.
Since this is a republishing, there are bound to be a few outdated issues. For instance, the East versus West Shootout series seems too reminiscent of the 1972 'Summit Series' where the Canadian National hockey team played off against the Soviet Union – it seems unlikely that such rivalries would have survived so long in the sport of hockey. There are several instances where more recent technology has been included, such as when Hog is at the black-market in Moscow and sees a man unloading "DVD players and radios from the trunk of a black Mercedes." Ten years ago, DVD players were not so commonplace in North America, let alone Russia. In another instance, Hog's first roommate warns him to take "everything of value" with him wherever they go: "wallet, watch, Walkman, Game Boy." I cannot help but wonder why he does not talk about Sony PSPs, IPods, and cellphones.
Aside from these minor shortcomings, All-Star Pride is a very well written novel, with a plot complex enough to appeal to many young readers. I recommend it to those who are interested in hockey, art-smuggling, and mysteries!
Laura Ludtke, a graduate from the University of British Columbia, holds a Bachelor of Arts in Honours Classical Studies. She is currently attending Queen's University where she is pursuing a Master of Arts in Classics. Like many children educated in Central Alberta, she too enjoyed meeting Sigmund Brouwer when he visited her Grade Four class.
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