Friday, April 07, 2023

Captain Skidmark

Irwin, Jennifer A. Captain Skidmark Dances with Destiny
April 4, 2023 by Charlesbridge Publishing
E ARC provided by Edelweiss Plus

Will and his parents have moved to a small town in Canada so that his father, a former professional hockey player, can take a position as a school principal. Will is on a hockey team, but he is not at all good at the sport, and because of his small size, is often picked on by his teammates, especially the vile Artie. As if this weren't painful enough, his cousin Alex is moving from the big city to go to school and play hockey. Alex's family is very wealthy, but the parents are very busy with work, and the details surrounding the reasons he is living with Will are a bit unclear. He's a great soccer player, strapping, handsome guy, but a bit of a jerk. After being pursued by bullies, Will ducks into a local dance studio, where he meets the suave and a bit goofy Jesus, who convinces him to try some moves. Because he gets to dance with Tessa Harper, he's okay with it, and turns out to have a bit of a talent. He starts to take lessons, telling his mother he is at the library. His ruse is discovered by Alex, who uses his knowledge to leverage a meeting with Tessa. When she takes a dislike to him, Alex has Will convince her to go out, and to come along on the date. Alex is actually a nice guy who stands up for Will and is more interested in education than sports, but his father pushes him. Will continues to do poorly at hockey and to struggle with Artie and the other jerks in his school, so he doesn't want anyone to know about his dancing, especially his father. Will had an older brother who died as an infant, and finding this out solidified his feeling that his father was disappointed in him, and that his brother and his cousin are really more of the kind of son his father wants. When Will ends up having a bit of talent as a goalie, his father is excited and signs him up for a goalie camp. Will isn't thrilled, but acquiesces, and gives up his dance dreams. At the same time, Alex's father comes in to town and wants to take him back to play a higher level of hockey in the city. Because Will wouldn't stand up for himself, Alex doesn't either. Will both boys decide to follow their fathers' dreams instead of their own, or will they find their voices?

Strengths: There are a lot of good hockey details, even though Will doesn't like the sport. There are not as many descriptions of the dancing, and while it is played for laughs at first, I liked that Will had a talent for it. There is a lot going on emotionally in both boys' lives. Will was never told about the baby who died, and feels very alone and unsupported. The grandfather, who gives him details, is not a positive role model who can help out. Alex came to the small town because of anger management issues, and seeing the boys grow close and support each other was the best part of this book for me. Will also has a friend, Mike Safi, who lives on a farm and is similarly bullied; this is not explored overly much, but Will does prove himself to be a good friend. I liked that there is a little bit of romance involved, and Will is reliably awkward about it. I think this is a highly relatable title with a style that will appeal to most middle school boys, especially those who have mixed feelings about sports. 
Weaknesses: Frequent readers of my blog know that I am basically a 12-year-old boy in my reading preferences, but it turns out there is a limit to the amount of time I can read about people getting hit in the nuts. Fart jokes are great, but they need to be more nuanced. Also, not sure we ever need to read descriptions of girls' breasts in any middle grade literature, and there are a couple of instances when Will "pitches a tent" that I could have done without. While all of these middle grade moments are okay in moderation, there were just too many of them for me to feel comfortable handing this to students. I was not fond of the grandfather's use of the term "peckerwood", either.
What I really think: I will probably purchase this, despite the content. It's not horrible, but since I do so much hand selling, I'd rather the book didn't have these things. It does have a lot of hockey details in it, and there are a good number of my students who have read all of the Sigmund Brouwer titles and want something new. It will check out about as much as Kadohata's Checked, which goes out four or five times a year, making both of these hockey books good investments. 

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