Quill & Quire Review - Breakaway

Reviewed by: Suzanne Gardner

At what should be the height of the NHL season, two Canadian publishers have released young adult books aimed at girls who love Canada's game. Although both novels are sure to capture the imaginations of tweens and teens who live, eat, and breathe hockey, each tackles the world of youth athletics from a different angle.

Breakaway, the third novel in Maureen Ulrich's Jessie Mac series, follows high school senior and captain of the hockey team Jessie, who's having trouble leading by example both on and off the ice. It's her team's first year at the AAA level, and the pressure is greater than ever before. Plus, she's trying to balance hockey with her challenging schoolwork, bratty younger sister, and crushes on three different boys - her ex, her current boyfriend, and a new potential love interest. 

Jessie's hockey struggles are thoroughly intertwined with her average teen-girl problems. All of Jessie's close friends are on the team, which means issues between them come up at parties as well as during games. Though Ulrich quickly brings readers up to speed with Jessie's life, fans who have been following the series from the start will feel a greater emotional attachment to these characters than newcomers will. 

While Jessie herself is suitably complex, her relationships with some of her teammates are given the short end of the stick. Her best friend Kathy is described as the hot-headed "Queen of the Penalty Box." When the two argue about Jessie's ex-boyfriend mid-story, their conflict is left unresolved, yet by the end of the book their friendship appears magically back to normal.

Breakaway moves along at a good clip with very few slow sections, and Jessie's personal problems are as fast-paced and intense as her big games. Where the book falters is in its heavy-handed dramatic scenes. The logical "nice girl" voice in Jessie's head causes her to doubt herself repeatedly. Ulrich isn't giving young readers much credit in constantly pointing out Jessie's bad decisions, such as leading on her boyfriend, who clearly has much stronger feelings for her than she does for him.

Despite these criticisms, Breakaway would best Natalie Hyde's Hockey Girl if the two stories were to meet on the ice. 

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