CM . . . . Volume XIX Number 9 . . . . November 2, 2012
Jessie Mac is now a senior in high school and plays AAA hockey, the highest level of minor hockey. Added to the stress of playing in a top league, Jessie also is captain of her team and so has to deal with her teammates, the coaching staff, and parents as well. Her personal life does nothing to lower her stress level either, since her 11 year old sister, Courtney, has a new group of friends who seem to be a bad influence on her. And their parents have just given Courtney a cell phone, seemingly happy to provide her with whatever she wants. Jessie is worried, to say nothing of a little angry and jealous.
Jessie's personal life is complicated. She is currently dating Evan, a calm and sensible guy who turns out to be far more serious about their relationship than Jessie. She was just hoping that Evan would help erase her feelings about Mark, a previous boyfriend who has moved on. And then there is Liam who is obviously very interested in Jessie, showing feelings that she just doesn't reciprocate. A New Year's hockey tournament brings the very real possibility that all three will collide and Jessie will be faced with some tough explanations... and tough choices.
Ulrich's characters are believable and realistic. Jessie has matured somewhat from the two earlier books of the trilogy and is more capable of dealing both with the ups and downs of her sport as well as the vicissitudes of her personal life. When she needs to, she can be understanding and capable of making excellent decisions in difficult situations. Because the novel is narrated from Jessie's point of view, readers see both her calm exterior and the flood of emotions underneath which occasionally also percolate to the surface. The "breakaway" of the title refers not only to Jessie's hockey game but also to her newfound ability to think and act for herself.
The secondary characters add a great deal both to the plot and to Jessie's gradual coming of age. Ulrich presumably draws upon her years of experience as a teacher of middle school students, and thus her characters ring true. Jessie's teammates are interesting, and each girl has something to add to the novel. The team rookies highlight Jessie's role as team captain. Some teammates are supportive and offer both friendship and advice for Jessie, while others are content to spread rumours and undermine her whenever possible.
The three boys who form the past, present and future romances for Jessie are also believable. Mark is an example of the past boyfriend whom Jessie just can't seem to forget. Events in this novel finally help her see reality and move away from her dreams of what might have been. Meanwhile, Evan seems to be a convenient way for Jessie to move to a new relationship, and, through her mismanagement of their friendship, she learns more about respect for others. Liam expresses a great deal of interest in Jessie, but only near the end of the novel are his feelings finally understood and reciprocated.
Ulrich grew up in western Canada, and so the Saskatchewan setting seems natural as she takes readers to small towns and hockey rinks. The fast paced hockey action will satisfy any fan who picks up the novel as Ulrich provides exciting play by play commentary as Jessie and her teammates are faced with important matches and tournaments. Like all teams, they win some and lose others, but continue to evolve and learn both on the rink and off. Ulrich also understands other elements of the sport, such as the importance and influence of coaching styles as well as the tensions inherent in a dressing room filled with teenage girls. She depicts both the excitement of games and the drudgery of practices.
Learning through sport is a theme used in many novels, and Breakaway is no exception. The rookies on the team help Jessie hone her leadership and mentoring skills. As well, her teammates and coaches help her learn when to be feisty and fight for what she wants and when to pull back and attain her goals through co-operation and compromise. All of these lessons are put to good use in both her family relationships and her romantic encounters as well as at the very end of the novel when she must deal with the unexpected death of someone close to her.
Like the other books of the trilogy, Power Plays and Face Off, Breakaway has a gritty and realistic tension in it which will appeal to a variety of young adult female readers. There is hockey action, interpersonal drama, and romance. 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. Jessie Mac not only steps up to lead her team but steps up in her own life to deal with personal issues and set her future course. Like its predecessors, Breakaway has all of the attributes of a prize winner and is a 'must have' for the shelves of any classroom or library catering to readers in the intermediate young adult age group.
Ann Ketcheson, a retired high school teacher librarian and teacher of high school English and French, lives in Ottawa, ON.
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