Prairie Fire Review - Face Off

Reviewed by: Donna Gamache

Face Off is the second novel in a trilogy by Saskatchewan writer Maureen Ulrich about Jessie McIntyre, a hockey-playing teen from Estevan. Although the new novel is complete on its own, people who plan to read both should read them in order. The stories are suited for middle teens. In the first novel, Power Plays, fourteen-year-old Jessie had moved from Saskatoon to Estevan, where she found it hard to fit into grade nine. She was bullied at school and on the Internet and - after she started playing hockey for the Estevan Xtreme - on the ice as well. Eventually she made friends and stood up to the bullies, and even gained a boyfriend, Mark, a hockey-playing grade eleven student.

Face Off picks up where the first novel ended. It is almost the end of Jessie's first school year in Estevan. Now fifteen, she is busy with softball games and exams. She looks forward to summer, to next fall's start of hockey season and the Midget girls' league that is being formed. Then Mark informs her that he will spend the summer in Calgary with his father. She also learns that her hockey coach, Mark's uncle and father of Jessie's friend, Tara, is being transferred. Jessie reacts by overdrinking at a party and making out with another friend, Jodi. When pictures of the two circulate on the Internet, she must deal with the resulting razzing and bullying. It's not a great summer.

Jessie's first year in high school, with its added pressures, begins, and soon hockey season is underway. But nothing is the way Jessie had hoped. Mark has a new, older girlfriend; the Xtreme have lost some key players; and the coaches aren't very good. Some team members are intent only on hogging the ice time and getting rid of their coaches. Jessie must deal with dressing-room cat fights and getting over Mark. She must face bullies, both girls and boys, and figure out how to help some of her friends, as well as her own little sister, with major problems of their own.

Teen girls who enjoy hockey will like this book. Those who aren't so sports-minded may feel that some of the hockey games include too much play-by-play detail - but there are other issues to intrigue them. The author includes many other themes of interest to middle teens: teenage problems with alcohol, including binge drinking; self-mutilation (cutting); Internet and school bullying; overcontrolling parents; teen violence; and having a parent who is gay.

I enjoyed this book, with its many underlying themes. I did find that there were a lot of characters to keep straight, and wondered if a few could have been left unnamed or perhaps omitted altogether.

Ulrich is obviously knowledgeable about hockey and teen issues. Her first book was nominated for three Saskatchewan Book Awards, and this one may well receive some, too. Ulrich is working on the third novel in the series. 

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