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13 April 2009 WAITING TO SCORE by J.E. MacLeod, WestSide Books, February 2009, 200p., ISBN: 978-1-934813-01-0


"'She's really sad, and just trying to figure out how to fit into this messed-up world of ours.' I looked around at all of us. We were all trying to do the same thing in our own way."


Zachary Chase is the new kid in town. A high school junior "with good hair and smoking hockey skills," he has just completed tryouts for the team in Haletown Montana, and is heading for the arena concession stand in search of a soda when he bumps into a girl. Literally:


"'Ouch! Hey, watch it,' a female voice yelped.

"It caught me off guard for a second, until I looked up. I'd crashed straight into a girl. She held a book open and obviously hadn't been paying attention either. She almost pierced my skin with the expression in her eyes.

"I couldn't help smiling. She looked scrappy. She wasn't tiny, maybe five six, but in spite of her height, she appeared small. Thin. Maybe 110 pounds on a bloated day. Her clothes hung on her, like she'd raided her big sister's closet. Her much bigger sister. She wore a long black skirt, black Doc Martens, and a black sweater that hung on her thin shoulders, where her black hair, obviously straight from a bottle, rested.

"Everything about her reeked rebel. I looked at her eyes. They glared, flashing with distaste, but they were a crazy pale blue color, kind of shiny, almost gentle, even with all the thick black eyeliner around each eye. Not a pothead, I guessed; just making a fashion statement, maybe? Even her harsh clothes, hair, and makeup couldn't disguise the good looks this girl had been born with.

"She clutched a thick novel, the fold about half way through it. I tried to see the title but I couldn't make it out."


Why this Goth-looking, attitudinal female who hates hockey players is regularly seen reading in the bleachers of the ice arena is one of the many things that Zack comes to learn about Jane Parker.


Meanwhile, Zack has already gotten the message -- delivered on the ice during tryouts -- that the team's captain Trevor (Mac) MacDonald Jr. has it out for him. It turns out that Zack's reputation has preceded him:


Zack is the player Mac will never be.

Zack's father was a National Hockey League star who was drunk behind the wheel of a car loaded with players and hockey pucks (groupies) when it crashed -- killing all of the occupants -- just before Zack was born.


Zack mother has brought him up well and Zack can talk with her about nearly anything. She has moved him around in order to pursue her professional career while raising him as a single mom. She has high hopes for Zack's gaining the notice of a good college, where he can play hockey and get a degree on his way to the NHL. He's got his fair share of testosterone, but he worries about doing the right thing.


In contrast, Mac is not at all a nice person, and by time we get a few doses of his belligerent father, we understand where Mac has acquired his bullying nature, his complete lack of fair play, and his appalling (to say the least) treatment of females. We have no idea how low Mac might stoop in order to remove the threat that Zack represents to his and his father's egos and plans.


But it is not just Mac who has Jane despising hockey players. WAITING TO SCORE is immersed in violence (on and off the ice), hormones, underdressed girls, alcohol and wild, out-of-control parties, and it is Zack's captain and teammates who are to be repeatedly found at the middle of things. So it is not surprising that many see Zack as being rather unusual for not going along with the prevailing "boys-will-be-boys" philosophy and (mis)behaviors.


While there is plenty of hot action on the ice, WAITING TO SCORE is far less a sports action book than I had assumed it would be. This is foremost a realistic story of teens learning to fit in and survive, and author Janet MacLeod does a stellar job of probing every one of Zack's interpersonal relationships including with his mom, Jane, his new, close friend Sheila, his teammate David, Mac, and the beautiful and deeply-troubled Mona Ryder.


"'What do you have to say for yourself?' Coach Cal sounded pissed.

"I tried to stand up. I didn't say anything. Because I passed out."


Thanks to J.E. MacLeod, new contemporary YA publisher WestSide Books puts its first big points on the board.


Richie Partington, MLIS

Richie's Picks http://richiespicks.com

Moderator, http://groups.yahoo.com/group/middle_school_lit/




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