CM . . .
. Volume XVII Number 36. . . .May 20, 2011
Rink Rivals. (Sports Stories).
Toronto, ON: James Lorimer, 2010.
170 pp., pbk., $9.95.
Grades 5-8 / Ages 8-13.
Review by Rob Bittner.
“That loser’s no threat. He can hardly work the puck down the ice, let alone score.” Evan said, trying to deflect the Nighthawks captain, but the look on Craig’s face made it clear.
“I think smashing Coles’s newest player is what we’re after. What’s the matter with you Selkirk? You signed on as our muscle, and so far, you’re doing a great job; but don’t get me wrong, you can be replaced. His eyes narrowed ominously. “I want the message clear. We took him out just because we could and we can take any other player out, too. Nighthawks rule! Now, are you one of us or not?”
“Don’t worry about me, Craig,” Evan said through gritted teeth. “Like you said, Nighthawks rule.” He was not going to let his jerk brother spoil the best thing he’d ever been in.
Two brothers, two hockey teams, two very different approaches to the game. Bryn and Evan Selkirk, 13, are twins, recently relocated to Calgary to accommodate their mother’s new job, and they are as different as two brothers can be; both on, and off the ice. Their parents want a friendly rivalry to keep the boys striving to do their best, and when they send them off to different schools, the rivalry moves from friendly to downright ruthless.
Bryn loves music. He wants to play the piano, and his parents know it, so they send him off to a school well known for its music program. But on his first day, Bryn meets Kelsey. Kelsey’s father coaches the Comets, and her brother is the team captain. Bryn, wanting to impress Kelsey, tries out for the team. He manages to stumble through a couple of practices and makes it onto the team, but not without some trouble managing his priorities. He shows up late for his first music audition, and his music teachers lets him know that music, if Bryn wants to succeed, will have to take priority.
Evan isn’t the most popular kid at school, but he manages to get by with good grades. He loves hockey and can’t wait to get onto a team after moving to Calgary. He meets the team captain of the Nighthawks and makes the team roster through a show of physical force. But now he has to live up to a tough-guy standard that he’s not so impressed with. On the ice, he becomes a brutal player, taking out other players as his team captain requests. But can he live with this compromise? And can he really take down his own brother?
Jacqueline Guest brings together a number of important themes in this high-action, high-stakes sports novel: familial relationships, racial difference, and sports versus art. Her style of writing makes the characters likeable for their humanity, and not for their perfection. They do things that are questionable at best, but they radiate a desire to fit in and be part of something bigger, and who can’t relate to that? The brothers are rendered with sensitivity and depth, each having to struggle against clashing priorities, relationships—both with each other and with friends—and their own desires.
Rink Rivals is well-written, addictive, and highly engaging. Guest is particularly adept at creating relatable characters that are compelling in their own development as well as in how they act throughout the narrative. The text is well suited for its audience of young—and also reluctant—readers. While Rink Rivals is much more geared toward a male audience, girls with an interest in sports will also likely get much enjoyment out of this novel which is deserving of its designation as a Canadian Children’s Book Centre Best Book.
Rob Bittner is a graduate student of Children’s and Young Adult Literature at The University of British Columbia in Vancouver, BC.
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