CM . . .
. Volume XIV Number 8 . . . . December 7, 2007
On the surface, Power Plays is a typical young adult novel. Fourteen-year-old Jessie moves from Saskatoon to Estevan. She misses her former friends and can't seem to make new ones. Her parents frequently misunderstand her. She has trouble relating to the boy who wants to get to know her better. Had Ulrich left the story there, it might have been a good book but not a special one.
Jessie not only has some trouble establishing new friendships, but she finds herself the target of a local bully. The bullying begins with taunts and name-calling at school and then escalates to gossip spread via the Internet and also to more threatening, physical violence. The photo on the book's cover explains a lot: a young teenage girl who has a tough look to her but who, if you look closely, also has a tell-tale tear just below her right eye. Jessie can be tough when confronted by bullies, but it takes an emotional toll on her.
Despite her initial hesitation, Jessie is persuaded to join a girls' hockey team. Helped by her experience with ringette, she learns to adapt her abilities to a new sport and gains self-reliance and new strength along with improved hockey skills. And then Kim - the bully - joins the team!
Ulrich has created characters with whom young readers will easily relate. Their speech and attitudes and the high school setting are all believable. Much of Jessie's learning occurs on the ice, and Ulrich obviously has both an understanding of and a love for the sport of hockey. On a thematic level, we see both the negative - girl vs girl violence and peer pressure, and the positive - building respect and self-esteem, particularly when surrounded by a supportive peer group.
The last few pages of the book contain the author's notes and comments about bullying, suggestions for reducing bullying at school, ideas for handling bullies if you are a target, and a short list of resources, both print and on-line. These pages are an excellent basis for class discussions about this very real problem, even if students haven't read the novel.
Power Plays is a wonderful title for a novel which has as its focus not only the sport of hockey but the ways we all tend to seek what we want in our various relationships. Ulrich demonstrates that there are many ways to succeed in relationships without resorting to any sort of bullying. She stresses the importance of accepting and celebrating the differences between people rather than using them as an excuse for malicious behaviour. This is an excellent novel which provides lots of action, a little romance, and a great deal to think about.
Ann Ketcheson is a retired teacher-librarian and teacher of high school English and French. She lives in Ottawa, ON, where she has found a new career as a travel consultant.
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