Fabulous, YA, sports romance with a hockey-player heroine
Reading Level: Young Adult Romance
Release Date: March 12, 2019
Publisher: Amulet Books
Pages: 324 pages
Reviewed By: Kate McMurry
Holland Delviss (hockey nickname, Dutch) is a tremendously talented, 16-year-old hockey player who lives in the fictional small town of Halcyon Lake, Minnesota. During her freshman year, she was the only girl on the boys’ junior varsity team, and she has remained the only girl on the boys’ varsity team since her sophomore year. When she reached puberty, rather than transferring to the girls’ hockey team as all the other girl players did, she opted to stay on the boys’ team. She didn’t want to lose her close connection to her longtime male teammates, especially her beloved brothers.
Holland’s entire family is hockey mad. She and her brothers all started playing hockey when they were only three, and they joined their first team at age five. Holland’s brother, Hunter, is an 18-year-old freshman who’s on the men’s hockey team at a nearby university. Her brother, Carter, is 17 and the co-captain of their high school’s varsity hockey team. Her younger brother, Jesse, is 14 and is destined to ascend to the varsity hockey team by his sophomore year, as his siblings all did before him. Holland’s mother is a highly successful food blogger with a special angle—how to feed growing, hungry hockey players. But the most significant contributor to the Delviss family hockey mania is Holland’s dad. He played on a state championship hockey team at their local high school in his teens, and he has continued to play informally as an adult. He is thrilled that all four of his kids love the game as much he does, and he has supported their hockey dreams to such an extreme degree that he has provided them with a state-of-the-art ice rink in the basement of the big farmhouse in the countryside where they live.
In addition to her passion for hockey, inspired by her mother’s blogging success, Holland has created her own blog, which she treats like an online diary to record her thoughts about music. Her dream career is to be the founder and managing editor of a music magazine, and her plan to achieve that goal is to be accepted into the journalism program at Hartley University in Duluth, financed by a full-ride scholarship playing on their outstanding women’s hockey team.
Wes Millard (hockey nickname, Hot Sauce) is a gifted hockey player who transferred to Halcyon Lake from a school with a state-championship team. He is famous in Minnesota hockey circles for scoring the game-winning overtime goal that took his team to the championship tourney when he was only a sophomore, and no one will be surprised if he is drafted onto an NHL team the instant he graduates from high school. Holland encountered Wes for the first time the week before school began her sophomore year and his junior year, right after he moved to her town, and just before she officially joined the varsity team. It was not a promising meeting. Wes condescendingly remarked to her, “Don’t think anyone is going to give you a free pass because you’re a girl. You have to earn it.” Such blatant provocation from an interloper on her team justifiably incensed Holland, and she fired right back at him, giving as good as she got. The following year, Wes set a school record for goals scored in one season, was appointed co-captain for this current school year with her brother Carter, and as far as Holland is concerned, has had it in for her from the first. He’s never had a good word to say to her on the ice, and has constantly criticized her game for well over a year.
A major break for Holland’s team occurs when it is selected to participate in HockeyFest (an actual, real-world event). Minnesota is famously known as the State of Hockey, and HockeyFest is a highly anticipated, annual affair which attracts college scouts from around the country, and sometimes NHL scouts as well. Holland makes an impressive showing during an interview with a sports reporter, and hers and multiple other interviews from the hockey teams of numerous contestant towns are televised all over the state via a Twin Cities news station. Five winning cities are determined, reality-TV-show style, by votes tallied from sports fans who view the interviews. It is apparent to everyone in Halcyon Lake, when their town is voted by a large margin as one of the victorious cities in the competition, that this amazing feat is almost entirely due to their having “that girl player,” Holland, on their team.
Though it’s a big honor, Holland is feeling a bit overwhelmed by the HockeyFest spotlight glaring down on her when, out of the blue, Wes Millard, of all people, begins acting like a concerned friend instead of her main adversary. It’s a pleasant change of pace, but Holland can’t help being confused, and more than a little distrustful, of his motives. Why has this guy, who has always been harshly judgmental of her, suddenly turned into Mr. Nice?
I am a huge fan of YA sports romances in which the heroine is an elite athlete, and this is one of the better ones I’ve read so far. It is told entirely from Holland’s point of view (POV), which is not ideal for a romance novel, in my personal opinion, because we only get to know Wes through Holland’s perceptions and, due to her longstanding resentment of him, she is a bit of an “unreliable narrator.” However, first-person POV is definitely a commonly accepted convention in YA, and it does provide an element of romantic conflict to the story, since Holland can’t read Wes’s mind and always assumes the worst of him. Fortunately, this author is skilled enough that she enables readers to come to know Wes over the course of the story almost as well as we understand Holland, by the same means, directly demonstrating their skill and dedication as elite athletes in the book’s hockey-action scenes, and presenting onstage their affectionate interactions with their friends, families, and teammates. As a result, we are left in no doubt that both Holland and Wes are intelligent, talented, hard-working, honorable, and loyal and loving to their friends and family. They are, in fact, some of the most endearing romantic protagonists I’ve encountered, to date, in a YA novel.
This book offers an excellent balance between the two main plots: First, Holland’s experiences as a skilled, female hockey player who is a vital member of her hockey team and, second, her budding romantic relationship with Wes, which is very well done. Though I cannot claim to be an informed fan of hockey, the hockey scenes in this book feel quite authentic. Most importantly, they are fun, fast-paced, opportunities to vicariously experience from Holland’s perspective what it’s like to be a brilliant, female hockey player.
Though there is plenty of sensual chemistry between Holland and Wes, their relationship doesn’t venture into actual sex, only kissing and some light “make-out” sessions. There is one scene of underage drinking, a bit of salty language, and some sensitive scenes about sexual-harassment type of bullying that Holland receives from a cruel player on an opposing hockey team. All of that together makes this book right on the cusp of G-rated and PG-13.
Regarding the bullying, I commend this author for making it obvious in her portrayal of bullying that it is a reprehensible act that is never acceptable—even in a hardscrabble, contact sport like hockey. In addition, the book sets an ideal example for how authority figures and peers should treat victims of bullying. Holland receives exemplary, nurturing care in dealing with her post-bullying trauma from her girlfriends, her parents, her coach, the boys on her team, and one of her teachers who used to play hockey at a level of skill similar to Holland in high school and college, who had experienced bullying herself.
I rate this book as follows:
Romantic Hero: 5
Romance Plot: 5
Hockey Plot: 5