Though the title is vague, the cover immediately lets you know what this book is all about–girls’ hockey! Refreshingly, it’s set in the Northwest Territories, and isn’t about the Inuit way of life, though some of the kids are of First Nations or, like Jess, Metis decent.
Jess and her friends have been on the boys’ hockey team for years. With only two hundred kids in the K-12 school in the Northwest Territories town of Fort Desperation, there have never been enough players for the girls to have their own team. But the new RCMP officer’s three daughers played in an all-girl league in Newfoundland, so Jess and her friends decide that they should see if anyone else is interested. It’s not just because they’re tired of the body-checking, taking turns changing in the bathroom, or the action movies and farting contest during road trips to tournaments. Okay… maybe it is about the tournaments. While the initial draw of having their own league is the prospect of a girls-only road trip, these girls are definitely serious about their hockey. With the addition of a couple of figure skaters and a star soccer goalie, they manage to get enough players to start practice, and rise to all the challenges that present themselves, from finding a coach and equipment to the challenges of an outdoor rink when the zamboni breaks down. But then, deliberate acts of vandalism, targetted specifically to keep the girls’ team from playing.
Refreshingly, this doesn’t turn into battle of the sexes, or the story of underdog team triumphing over impossible odds. The book actually ends as the girls are on the bus on their way to their first tournament game in Grande Prairie, although we do get to see them play at least one game, against the boys’ team. (For another twist on the small-town sports team facing impossible odds, try Ken Robert’s Thumb on a Diamond.) There’s a strong sense of community, and of place. (You know it’s truly a Canadian novel if the landscape develops into a character in its own right!) There’s not a whole lot of deep and complex characterization, and everyone turns out to be genuinely good person. Even the notorious Hockey Vandal comes around in the end. The whole mystery feels a little bit like an afterthought, but the characters are engaging, and I’m always on the lookout for decent hockey books for the library. (Which are harder to find than you’d think, given that the American publishing industry is far more interested in football, basketball and baseball. Not surprisingly, most of the good stuff is Canadian, and you can never have too many–just like dinosaur books!)
For older middle school readers, I’d suggest Power Plays by Maureen Ulrich, which has a lot to appeal to your die-hard girl hockey players. Going Places is not as hard-core, which understandable given the younger target audience. Accessible, and a good balance of sports and mystery.