CM . . .
. Volume XIII Number 8 . . . .December 8, 2006
Toronto, ON: Key Porter Books, 1966/2006.
256 pp., pbk., $11.95.
Grades 7-9 / Ages 12-14.
Review by Jonine Bergen.
McGonigle blinked. If you know your home ice you have an edge. Practise enough and you'll figure out the rebound angles. Tim's stick met the puck on the ricochet; he streaked across the cage, and backhanded the puck low between post and pad. It ripped into the twine and fell spinning. The goalie was still waiting for it when the light flashed.
In this reprint, Leslie McFarlane treats the reader to a fast, hard checking exchange between two big league scouts intent on scoring the major talent in the Northern Ontario town of Snowshoe Lake in the early 1960's. Like the annual Old-Timers' Hockey Game, the scouts, Skates McGonigle and Blackjack Snead, battle it out with legal body checking and not-so-legal hooking.
Skates McGonigle is a bumbling, but amiable, retired hockey star who scouts for his former team, the Blueshirts. Now, he spends his time playing poker with old friends in the towns he tours while searching for fresh talent. Unfortunately, his boss has learned that some of his reports are not entirely accurate; worse, McGonigle has missed signing Tim Beckett, a promising young player.
Now, to keep his job, McGonigle must get to the small town of Snowshoe Lake and sign young Beckett on the assumption that Beckett's talent matches his reputation as a natural. McGonigle is going to face a number of challenges and learn a few life lessons in his pursuit of Beckett's signature on the C-form.
The citizens of Snowshoe are not willing to lose their best player and a chance at the elusive championship without a fight. Also, Tim's mother, who does not watch hockey much less like it, is not willing to let her son become a slave to any major league franchise. Finally, Blackjack Snead, an unscrupulous, smooth talking scout from a competing team, is also on his way to scout Tim Beckett. One of Blackjack's greatest joys in life is to "make a monkey out of McGonigle".
Luckily, McGonigle has the cavalry waiting to rescue him in the guise of long time admirers, Emma Dinwoodie and her friends. The resulting chaos and confusion make McGonigle Scores a good chuckle and a sure winner with hockey fans.
Though Leslie McFarlane has populated his small town Ontario with stock characters and stereotypes, he has successfully captured the flavour of a hockey town in the throes of the big game. His scenes at the rink are great. The dialogue, too, is believable and appropriate to the 1960's era in which the novel was originally set.
However, today's reader may find the plot and ending predictable and simplistic. Though the final game is an exciting climax, the denouement is too neat and tidy. Also, middle aged Skates McGonigle may not be a character to whom young teens can relate.
Finally, there are a couple of racial comments that may have been acceptable when the book was originally published in the 1960s that Brian McFarlane, the editor, could have edited out without impacting on the story or characters.
According to my 12-year-old boy co-reviewer, the plot was a little slow to get into. However, the scenes at the rink really captured his attention. McGonigle Scores was a pleasant surprise for him. He expected not to like it because he usually reads fantasy novels and isn't a hockey fan. He also gave McGonigle Scores *** /4.
Though McGonigle Scores will be a fun read for most readers, this book will be especially interesting to the hockey enthusiasts.
Jonine Bergen is working at the Millennium library and studying to become a Library Technician in Winnipeg, MB.
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