CM . . .
. Volume XVII Number 1. . . .September 3, 2010
Oil King Courage. (Orca Sports).
Victoria, BC: Orca, 2009.
240 pp., pbk., $9.95.
Grades 5-10 / Ages 10-15.
Review by Libby McKeever.
The figure ahead was a dark outline against the white of the snow. It didn't move.
"Lizzie?" I tried to speak quietly. "Lizzie?"
I jogged closer.
Still no answer.
It wasn't until I got close enough to touch the figure's shoulder that I realized it was a dummy. Literally. Like a dummy from a store window. This one was dressed in pants, a winter coat and a hat.
What was going on?
Suddenly, there were headlights and a low roar.
I looked behind me. It was the bulldozer, the Caterpillar D9 I had passed when I was jogging down the final stretch of Navy Road.
It moved closer. And closer.
I waved. Surely the driver saw me.
The bulldozer didn't slow down.
When it was about ten steps away, I realized that whoever was driving it had no intention of slowing down. I took a couple of steps backward. Then couple more. The blade of the bulldozer hit the dummy and broke it in half. The head rolled toward me.
That's when I began to run downstream on the Mackenzie ice highway, away from Inuvik.
With a bulldozer chasing me.
Gear, Godzilla and Rueben Rueben make an odd threesome. That is until they are matched to play a pond hockey tournament touring the high Arctic. Gear is fairly good at winning the draw when the puck is dropped, and Godzilla has the strength to muscle his way through a line. But it is Rueben who has the gift. He is quick on his skates, has an ability to anticipate the other team's moves and is deadly accurate with his shots on goal. With the promise of prize money that will help them fund their education down South and for Gear to finish his pilot training, the boys sign on with the tournament's sponsor, Mattock Construction. There is just one proviso; they are to wear their Oil Kings jackets all the time.
Gear's family came from Norway when he was seven, and he has a natural talent for engineering and flying. Rueben is Inuit, and after his parents died in a plane crash, he and his sister, Lizzie, are being raised by his aunt, though his grandmother, who lives miles away in the tiny town of Aklavik, is his legal guardian. His grandmother is very traditional and is against Rueben's going south for school, preferring he stayed and learned the ways of his people. When the Oil Kings from Edmonton want to sign Rueben to the team after their pond-hockey tour, he puts aside his fear of flying and takes Gear with him to ask his grandmother's permission.
Rueben's grandmother wears traditional clothing and still traps and skins animals. With the exception of a huge beaver pelt that is hung on the wall of her tiny cottage, she sells the pelts to make a living. When Gear asked why she hasn't sold that one, she snaps at him, telling him to mind his own business, and then she surprises them both by agreeing to allow Rueben to play hockey down south. She has a stipulation though. When he comes back from the pond hockey tournament, he has to find out how his grandfather was killed. This request surprises Rueben as he had always been told that his grandfather had died in a snowmobile accident.
So begins the boys' pond hockey tournament that hopscotches them across the frozen north and the beginning of a series of letters handed to Rueben by Elders in each community. Each of the Elders tells him a story about his grandfather, and each has another letter with directions for meetings in the next town on their tour. All the letters are written by his grandmother. The mystery unravels a story of a family secret, revealing a violent past, a passion for A.Y. Jackson's work, the famous Arctic artist, and a ruthless plot to steal his painting. The climax comes when things start to go wrong, the boys' jackets are stolen, and their car mysteriously won't start. Rueben's grandmother slips on ice and is hospitalized and Lizzie urgently calls to talk to him. When Gear is chased by a bulldozer on an ice road across the frozen Mackenzie River, he discovers that not only is his life in danger but also the lives of his friends.
Sigmund Brouwer, has done a wonderful job of tying mystery, Inuit traditions and hockey together in a great story of family, loyalty and friendship. This high interest novel will satisfy not only reluctant readers, but others who enjoy a fast-paced story. The hockey theme and excitement of the three-on-three pond hockey tour will appeal to boys, although the theme of friendship and teamwork will be appreciated by girls as well.
This is Sigmund Brouwer's ninth Orca novel focusing on hockey. Each of his hockey titles is based on an actual Western Hockey League team. Previous titles featured the Red Deer Rebels (Rebel Glory), Medicine Hat Tigers (Tiger Threat), Kamloops Blazers (Blazer Drive), Spokane Chiefs (Chief Honor), Portland Winter Hawks (Winter Hawk Star), Seattle Thunderbirds (Thunderbird Spirit) and the WHL in general (All-Star Pride).
Libby McKeever is the Youth Services Coordinator at Whistler Public Library in Whistler, BC.
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