________________ CM . . . . Volume XX Number 17. . . .January 3, 2014


Underhand. (Orca Sports).

M. J. McIsaac.
Victoria, BC: Orca, 2014.
180 pp., pbk., pdf & epub., $9.95 (pbk.).
ISBN 978-1-4598-0416-6 (pbk.), ISBN 978-1-4598-0417-3 (pdf), ISBN 978-1-4598-0418-0 (epub).

Grades 5-9 / Ages 10-14.

Review by Todd Kyle.

*** /4

Reviewed from Advance Reading Copy.



For a moment I see myself in that blue uniform, the giant H on the front of my jersey. Lindy’s sitting in one of those blue seats in the Philston Weiks arena, waving at me.

I sit on my hands and press my lips together. If I’m a Hurricane, everyone will see me differently.

“Nick?” says Coach Trent, looking at me like he’s worried I’m going to throw up.

I might.

Coach Trent laughs. “You all right, son?”

I’m not sure. I came here for Markus, but Kev’s voice is in my head. Quit worrying about your stupid brother and start thinking about you. I could. I could just shake Coach Trent’s hand and thank him. I could go to Philston Weiks next year, go to parties in mansions like Eric’s. I could be a Hurricane.

But if I do that, how different am I from Kev?

My eyes drop to my lap, and I start picking at my thumbnail. “Coach Trent,” I say, nearly choking on my own voice, “there’s something you need to see.”


Nick Carver, 15, and his older brother, Markus, both play lacrosse for the Maplehurst Hurricanes, but Nick is jealous, wishing he had both Markus’ talent and his girlfriend, Lindy, who is the team’s timekeeper. Markus is offered a scholarship to play lacrosse for Philston Weiks Academy, an elite private school, but soon after the offer is revoked when Markus is suspected of colluding with Lindy to prolong a tied championship game in order to give Markus time to score. Nick and his friend Kev are soon courted by Weiks instead, but Nick uses their tryouts to investigate who may have convinced the school’s Coach Trent that Markus was cheating. Soon he discovers it was Kev who was looking for better opportunities for himself and for Nick, and Nick enlists the help of Lindy and of Eric and Damien, a rival team’s players, to gather evidence of the plot, evidence which he shares with the coach in the above excerpt.

     Part of the “Orca Sports” series, this book successfully exploits the formula of fast-paced action, strong characterization, short paragraphs, and relatively simple vocabulary to produce a smoothly executed, if not entirely satisfying, read. Nick’s voice is strong, and his love of sport, desire to excel, and sense of fair play are well-expressed. His relationship with his brother is sufficiently conflicted to make it seem real. The game scenes are exciting, and the book has just enough details of this growing sport to make it appeal to aficionados as well as newcomers. Overall, the narration flows well.

     The mystery at the heart of the plot, though, does come across as somewhat contrived, with some doubt as to how a player and timekeeper could have planned such a deception, not to mention why the coach would believe it. Kev’s motivation is only partly convincing, and his transition from best friend to enemy is taken surprisingly well by Nick. The final confrontation between Kev and Damien is suspenseful, but the efforts to extract a video confession, and later retrieve it from a broken smartphone, are not entirely needed.

     But Kev’s guilt is subtle, creeping up on the reader with his suggestions that Lindy is guilty, and his eventual confession is oblique—he states only to Markus that “I got you what you wanted!”. The conflict between Nick’s ego and his love for his brother is also well played out, culminating in a scholarship offer that he turns down in order to exonerate his brother. Overall, Underhand is an enjoyable read that is well constructed, and it will likely find its audience among sports lovers and reluctant readers.


Todd Kyle is the CEO of the Newmarket Public Library in Newmarket, ON.

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

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