CM . . .
. Volume XVII Number 36. . . .May 20, 2011
Toronto, ON: Scholastic Canada, 2011.
194 pp., pbk., $9.99.
Grades 6-9 / Ages 11-14.
Review by Yahong Chi.
I’d barely got my skates off when that scraggly janitor walked up the hall, pushing a bucket by the mop handle. He stopped in the middle of the room and stared at me so long I started to think I’d done something wrong.
“I didn’t play too long… did I?”
He shook his head and began to mop the floor. “You skate good,” he said.
A bit random, but I said thanks all the same. Then he reached into his pocket and dropped a toonie in my lap.
“Why are you… giving me this?”
His head jerked sideways at me. “I know what it means for boy to skate alone in the morning. No school no home. I like to help.”
Before I could say anything he spun around and pushed the bucket back down the hall.
Twelve-year-old Jonathon has been an Undergrounder on the streets ever since his mom died. Paying fifty cents a night to Rigger, the guy who runs the Underground, is worth having a roof over his head at night. He didn’t mean to get involved with the Reggies, the regular kids, and their hockey games. But after stealing some brand-spanking-new (and expensive, too) hockey equipment, Jonathon can’t resist joining in a few games. A few games eventually lead to an offer from the team’s coach to join the team.
It all seems too good to be true, and it is. Soon, comments fly behind Jonathon’s back about how he hogs the puck, how he always gets a ride from fellow teammate Rasheed, and how he smells. These are Reggies, after all: what do they understand about street life? There’s trouble at the Underground, too. Lewis, an older guy who’s looked out for Jonathon, wants his help in shoplifting, and when Jonathon refuses, he’s promptly kicked out of the Underground. Abruptly alienated from all sources of relief, Jonathon can only rely on himself to survive on the streets.
Jonathon’s attitude towards Reggies and Streeters (street kids not part of the Underground) cements his roughing-it character from the first page, with an opening that sets up the importance of hockey to the story. A few days in Jonathon’s life illustrate the harsh world of street kids appropriately, and when contrasted with the Reggies’ hockey games, the difference endears Jonathon to the reader. The way Jonathon reacts is sometimes over the top and at other times appropriate. The number of “bad” guys is well-balanced by the “good” guys (a considerate janitor, a teammate’s sister). However, this results in the roles of “bad” (Streeters/Undergrounders) and “good” (Reggies) being painted in broad brushstrokes. The lack of justice for the stolen equipment puzzles. The hockey action is consistently described with thorough detail, almost play-by-play. Ending with a hockey game drives home just how much the game means to Jonathon.
Yahong Chi is a blogger (http://yahongchi.tumblr.com) and freelancer in Ottawa, ON.
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