December 28, 2012


by Maureen Ulrich
Coteau Books
394 pp.
Ages 13+

As hard as it is to believe, there are some people who have never embraced hockey as a Canadian life focus.  I am one such person.  My family never watched hockey when I was young.  I had no brothers or cousins nearby whose hockey passions I could follow.  And although I had friends who watched hockey, girls were not playing hockey when I was growing up.  I never even went to my first hockey game until I was in my 20's.  So reading and reviewing a book called Breakaway with a cover predicting a story suffused with hockey would not be a compelling read for me.  Or so I thought.

Breakaway is far more than the hockey story suggested in the title and cover art.  Breakaway tells the story of seventeen-year-old Jessie McIntyre of Estevan, Saskatchewan.  Jessie and some of her former teammates have recreated themselves into a new Triple A team called the Estevan McGillicky Oilers.  Being part of a new league and being a senior preparing for university, hopeful of being scouted for the university hockey team and getting a scholarship, Jessie finds herself at the crossroads of many new pathways.

She's still trying to get over a very short relationship from two years ago with Mark Taylor, now a University of Calgary hockey player, headed for the World Juniors.  And she needs to decide what she wants of her friendly relationship with Evan Gedak who plays basketball at U. of C. But there's Liam McCarthur, also a senior, who is obviously taking an interest in Jessie who doesn't know how to deal with him except with animosity and embarrassment.

Her Oilers team is having to turn away some former teammates and recruit new players and coaches, and Jessie, as elected captain, has to help everyone come together as a team, even when some players make poor decisions that threaten the team's very existence.  Moreover, as Jessie attempts to go forward in her new team, her circle of friends and acquaintances seems to be in more flux, with enemies becoming friends and friends becoming strangers or worse.

And at home, Jessie's eleven-year-old sister, Courtney, has decided to give up on figure skating and go out for hockey, latching onto new friends and trying on the uniform of a rebellious and temperamental teen and dragging Jessie into the midst of her drama.

Breakaway by Maureen Ulrich is the third novel in her Jessie Mac series which opened with Power Plays (Coteau, 2007) and Face Off (Coteau, 2010), and I'm sure that readers of these earlier volumes and those that know anything about hockey would find nothing untoward about the vernacular hockey-speak.  On the other hand, I had great difficulties navigating the colloquial terms for leagues and hockey plays.  As silly a suggestion as this is, a glossary would have helped me a great deal.  Luckily, Maureen Ulrich's dialogue is a useful tool for deciphering many terms and propelling the story from the arena to a world in which I am more familiar with its language.

Fortunately Breakaway is more than a hockey story.  It's a story of growing up and making decisions about staying in your comfort zone or challenging yourself with new opportunities.  It's about listening to the little voice that tries to help you recognize the reality of situations and the extent of your fears and desires.  Breakaway demonstrates that, if you go beyond playing the game of life and instead direct it to work for you (not letting fate be a scapegoat), you're more likely to be happy with the outcome, even if you don't always win.

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