________________ CM . . . . Volume XVII Number 10. . . .November 5, 2010.


Face Off.

Maureen Ulrich.
Regina, SK: Coteau Books, 2010.
352 pp., pbk., $12.95.
ISBN 978-1-55050-452-1.

Grades 6-9 / Ages 12-15.

Review by Ann Ketcheson.





Sunday and Monday are the worst days of my life. And thatís saying quite a lot because Iíve had my fair share of crappy days.

For instance, thereís the day my dad told me we were moving to Estevan.

Then thereís the day I did community service in Lignite for something that wasnít my fault.

The day I spent on in-school suspension with Kim Scott. Definitely no friendship bracelet or Kumbaya that day.

Pretty crappy days, indeed.

But none of them are even close to Sunday and Monday.

Nope, they definitely take the crap cake.

I donít even want to think about Sunday at the moment.

Monday starts off with me trying to convince my mother Iím too sick to write my French exam in the afternoon.

Normally, I really like French. I had a great French teacher at Hugh Cairns in Saskatoon and I love Madame at EJH.

But today I hate French. Fortunately, I already wrote my math final on Friday or Iíd hate math too, which would be a shame because Iím a really good math student.

Imagine how simple life would be if it was like working out algebra problems on the whiteboard for Mrs. Graham. Whenever we screw up, we could just rub out the mistake with a dry-erase marker and no one would remember it.

Ulrichís first novel featuring Jessie was Power Plays, and readers catch up with her again in Face Off. Jessie has lived in Estevan for a year when the novel opens, and she feels at home, especially when sheís involved in sports. Summer means baseball, and fall means high school and hockey, and it looks like both seasons will include Mark. Life doesnít get much better when youíre 15.

     But bad choices at just one party soon have Jessie on My space and youtube, and her world flips. Relationships with her friends are suddenly shaky, and Mark wants nothing to do with her. Once again Jessie turns to hockey where she finds a mental, emotional and physical outlet and where she has the possibility of getting things back on track in her life.

     Ulrich has years of experience as a teacher of middle-school students, and she evidently understands and enjoys this age group. Thus, her characters ring true when faced with challenges, whether they are academic, athletic or social. Ulrich provides realistic choices for her characters when things go wrong: some skip team practices and games, some choose to drink, one chooses to cut herself, and another even resorts to violence. Ulrich depicts these as understandable reactions even if they are not laudable. Both her male and female characters are drawn with empathy and sympathy, and Ulrich seems to love them all, even while despairing of their choices and subsequent actions.

     As part of a team, Jessie endures the highs and lows of the sport of hockey. The dressing room can change from a great party to a cat fight in just moments, and interpersonal problems migrate from dressing room to practice and on into games. Coaches and coaching styles have an impact, as do parents. Somehow, Ulrich pulls all of this together, and readers can enjoy delightful play-by-play sequences as well as the soap opera which is just barely below the surface. It is evident that Ulrich both understands and enjoys the sport of hockey. She depicts its fast pace and team work on the ice during a game as well as the drudgery of practices and the nervous tension of wondering if youíll make the team and who your linemates will be.

     Ulrich gives young readers a superb novel with something to pique every interest. Undercurrents of sex and alcohol run through the book along with adolescents learning both about themselves and about their relationships with their peers. The personal issues among the young women on the hockey team, as well as with their boyfriends and parents, provide insights into the teen world of today. The settings of the hockey world, middle school and Saskatchewan are clearly comfort zones for the author and so keep this novel realistic and understandable. Teenage girls will enjoy the sports action of the novel as well as the personal intrigues and will quite likely meet themselves or their friends in its pages.

     I understand that there is a trilogy in the works, so stay tuned for more of Jessieís amours and adventures. Ulrich very wisely leaves many questions unanswered at the end of Face Off so fans of the books may feel as though the semi-finals are settled, but there are many more big games yet to come for Jessie Mac.

Highly Recommended.

Ann Ketcheson is a retired high school teacher-librarian and teacher of English and French who lives in Ottawa, ON.

To comment on this title or this review, send mail to cm@umanitoba.ca.

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