A woman in my book club mentioned this title one evening when we were exchanging recommendations. I had never read a story about a field hockey team, but since it was based in Danvers, MA and ventured over to Salem, MA, two suburbs I visited during college, I thought I should give it a try.
Everyone enjoys a good witch hunt, right? From the Monty Python skits to the 1993 classic Hocus Pocus, we’ve more or less bought into the hype. When I heard that one of my college roommates was from Salem, I too wanted a tour of Gallows Hill and the witch museum, both of which I got during the same Boston area visit that included a birthday party in Danvers.
I appreciated the subtle introduction of race, class and gender issues -- as opposed to the in your face slam you in the dunk tank approach in Parachutes, a book I recently used as an example of one that seems to work hard to squeeze in every buzz topic it can. Quan Barry’s approach is unique in that it layers a present “woke” viewpoint on top of the cultural norms of the times. It points out how awareness and discussions of difference and diversity were discretely starting to come about.
My one objection to the book is that there isn’t one character who didn’t rebel against her upbringing. I think that would have been nice to see, because not everyone ends up with a revolutionarily different life from the one they were first introduced to. However, I can see that that would have made the book far less interesting.
When Barry’s field hockey team decides to make some kind of weird deal with the devil in order to win States, they begin acting out with insane pranks and emotional outbursts that, in the end, they realize was really their way of discovering their true selves. Some of it is just pure vandalism, like when the girls destroy someone’s van with their hockey sticks. Other times though, the act is something the reader can really get behind.
After hearing what it’s like for Black girl at this high school, the reader is all for burning the stack of Huckberry Finns and only wishes she thought to do it herself. After hearing what it might be like to be a gay teenager, the reader wishes they had all just lived and let live.
By the end of the book, the narrators finally agree that it’s time to ask the big question:
“Back in August when we’d signed our names in Emilio, were we really believers in the powers of darkness, or were we simply manifesting our own destinies, writing the plotlines to our own stories by taking our individual lives by the reins?” (320)
For sure, if nothing else, this book is a love song for American individualism and manages to report the successes of this mentality from about thirty years down the road. In some ways, it’s an optimistic view of how far we’ve come as Americans.
It gets a little hard to follow at times, especially in the beginning when you’re introduced to the team. As I asked my friend who recommended it,
“Do I have to remember the characters?”
She replied, “Oh, you’ll figure it out. You’ll see.”
She was right. This book definitely wins on characterization. If you’re a writer looking for new ideas for how to make your characters pop, definitely pick this one up. And if you’re a former high school student looking for a fun time warp into the past, consider this one. Maybe, like me, you never played field hockey. Maybe, like me, you might appreciate going along for the ride.
Each week, my writing instructor opens the class by asking a get-to-know you question, like, If you had a superpower, what would it be? Or, What needs to happen during summer for you or else it wouldn’t feel like summer? They are the kind of questions you could give a lot of thought or a little, questions that could have quick answers or profound ones, so early on in the course when she asked us, How did you come to the word? I was a little confused.
As in John 1:1, in the Beginning was the Word, and Word was with God and the Word was God?
Of course not, I shook myself a little. She is talking about words, as in writing. Still, there was such a sacred tone to her voice, I can be forgiven for momentarily thinking she was speaking of Jesus.
Then I wondered, is it sacreligious to speak of writing in such a similar way, to give it the same reverence? How glad was I to finally be in a competitive writing program where my classmates were going to read my full-length manuscript? How excited was I to have a reasonable excuse (akin to graduate school) to spend time putting pen to paper every day? How much did I want to admit that this was the best thing that could have happened for me this summer, to have my hobby treated as work?
I decided to swallow my awkward objection, and instead revel with my classmates as we each shared our answers, our excitement about writing. When it came my time to share, I told my story.
Toward the end of third grade, my family moved to a new town, and I started at a new elementary school. During one of my first week’s there, my classmates and I participated in California Achievement Testing, and one of the tasks was to write a paragraph. I don’t remember the prompt. I don’t remember what I wrote. What I do remember is that sometime later, my teacher must have gotten the results, including a copy of whatever words I had offered, and here’s the thing:
In front of the entire class, she praised my paragraph. My. Paragraph.
I don’t think I knew words could belong to someone before that. Or maybe I didn’t know they could belong to me. I also didn’t know writing was something you could be good at. It was just another school task, like adding numbers, where I tried to write down the right answers. Sitting at my little desk, I felt a little stunned, and then confused when the boy across from me said,
“You know how to write paragraphs? I can’t do that. I hate writing.”
He hated writing? I couldn’t believe it. How could he say such a thing? And yet, hearing him say it made me realize how much I loved writing. I loved journaling and creating stories. Until then, I didn’t know that made me different from some of my peers.
There were other teachers who encouraged me along the way, enough to keep me interested and wondering what I might write in the future. I also loved reading stories, though I was a slow reader. Over the years, I grew disappointed with the number of unread books on my shelves and came to wonder if I was more of a book collector than a reader.
In the meantime, there were plenty of school papers to work on, prompts and styles of every type, and through it all, there were my parents, marking up each and every one, taking turns between them and then (lightly) arguing with each other about syntax, word choice, ordering of ideas, or other stylistic choices. I came to believe that a paper hadn’t been worked at enough until it was completely decimated, until the margins and indeed all white spaces in between lines and anywhere were dripping with ink. Papers were little puzzles that needed to be dissected and transformed into something better, something they previously didn’t know they could be. Papers, words on the page, then breathed new life.
Wow, maybe this really is sacrilegious. Or maybe this is what it means to truly enjoy something.
I hope that boy from third grade has found something that lights him up in the same way. For me, I’m glad I found my words. I’m glad to be in a writing community, and I’m eager to see what happens next when I pick up my pen.
My kids struggled with our church’s virtual Vacation Bible School program this year. Last year, YouTube and Zoom events still held some novelty, and we did the best we could to stay on task with the zillions of craft and games and verse memorization and service projects that the team put together for us. This year, even though I carted four boxes of the church’s well-prepared supplies over 2,000 miles to our final summer destination, thanks to our enormous cartop carrier, my kids had trouble getting into it. My oldest one could at least express her preference for in person events. The others just groaned.
Hopefully we weren’t the only family who had a hard time.
Before they (we) gave up though, we got to know a few of the new songs, and we enjoyed a few of the YouTube programs. They included worship songs, Bible teaching, and games, but our favorite part was the So & So Show!
(It’s pretty easy to restart a YouTube program, it turns out.)
If you’re at all interested in checking it out, click here for Day One (of five) of our church’s Vacation Bible School, which we call Summer Blast. And, it turns out that there’s a whole channel for the So & So Show as well -- 145 episodes apparently! You can find episode 1 here.
Maybe, like our family, you’re pretty much spent on virtual programming. But I suspect someday the desire might come back...perhaps next winter when we’re cooped up in the house. I’m going to keep this one in my back pocket. Good comedy. Good teaching. I hope you can enjoy this or something similar as well.
So here’s what happened: My dad took the six of us to the Rockies game where we saw the home team beat the Seattle Mariners 6-3, which was great. Also great that our kids sat through the entire 90 degree game without squirming. Plus, we successfully scrambled for two baseballs thrown into the stands. (We gave away one.)
Unfortunately, shortly after that, as we climbed back into the mountains on our way to my parents’ house, our hybrid SUV lost power. At the wheel, my dad maneuvered the car to the right shoulder as quickly as he could, but the tail end (with the third row of seats and two small children on it) was still out in traffic. A monsoon-like downpour and thunderstorm had commenced about fifteen minutes prior to this. AAA couldn’t locate us via GPS. I tried calling them first. 9-1-1 is only for real emergencies, right?
“Eh, we need the rain,” he said pleasantly, before instructing us to make our way to the next exit. He would escort us there in case of further breakdown.
Once we made it off the highway and to a little gravel parking lot where we could regroup (along with a slew of other cars taking a break from the rockslides and standing road water), we called my mom and told her we’d be a little late for tacos.
Then we prayed the whole way home while we kept the kids quiet with Goldfish and an audiobook.
The thing is, on our first trip up the mountain two weeks earlier, our (non-hybrid) SUV’s brake rotors overheated, resulting in violent shaking of the entire car for the final two hours of our seventeen hour road trip from the Chicago area. I prayed the whole way with that one too.
So today, I reflect and realize I want to say thank you to the mechanics and the police officer and 9-1-1 dispatch who all worked to get us back on the road. We had to get home. We had another person waiting for us.
Earlier this summer, as part of an in-class writing exercise, my instructor gave us this prompt:
In our house, dinner was always…
I was stumped at first, but the answer was so obvious. Of course, I needed to thank my mom for dinner. When we finally made it home after the Rockies game, tacos were warmed and on the table. Before that, growing up, it looked a little like this:
“In our house, dinner was always when my mom said it was. Mostly, that meant after the Cosby Show, and after we washed our hands. Home cooked, well-rounded, a varied meal every time, and I had no idea how hard my mom worked to plan that for us until one time when I complained about the dish, and she punished me by making me write the menu for the next week.
I couldn’t think of one meal. I must have been around eleven. How many meals had she served me by that point in my life, and I couldn’t name one under the pressure of “Do this.”
So I developed an appreciation for the meals served, meals that sometimes were hard to chew (like steak) or sometimes were a mess but delicious (like chicken bombs) or that sometimes were served in front of the TV like on SuperBowl Sunday when she cooked nachos. It was always a good meal, always on my mom’s timing, whether my dad made it home from work on time or not. And actually, I got to where I didn’t mind if he was late because if he came home early and saw the Cosby Show, he might hear something inappropriate and ruin it for us by asking, “What are you watching?”
I have made a menu for my family every week for the past sixteen years. I thank my mom for that. It’s dinner. You don’t skip it. You have it when it’s time.”
She also does dessert. In the days following our adventure at the Rockies’ game, she baked dozens of cookies for the kids’ to decorate as part of our Christmas in July celebration.
And so life continues on, as I prayed every mile up the mountain, “just a little bit farther,” and with much help from those who continue to support our team.
Here you will find a catalog of my writing and reflections.