Review by Emily-Anne Mikos
Kids Can Press Ltd, 1 October 2019
297 pages, hardcover, $18.99 CAN, 978-1-52530-148-3
Ages 14-18, Grades 9-12
Young Adult, Contemporary Realism, Sports
He points at me. “Stand up, Manning.”
“Turn and face the room.”
I confront my new team. Every single one of them is smart enough to hold a poker face.
“This is a girl. She’s on the team this year. There will be no relations with her. I don’t care who you crush on at this school. Who you make out with in the library with or give your letter jacket to. But it will not be this girl. Any questions?”
One of the seniors, a known man-whore, raises his hand. “What if I accidentally fall and catch myself on her boo – ”
“I’m not joking, Breaker. Do not test me on this, boys.”
I’ll knee your balls into your throat is what will happen.
When I first picked up Michigan Vs. The Boys, I thought I knew what kind of story it was going to be. I had read stories about girls struggling in all-boy environments before, and thought I knew what to expect. But as I followed Michigan through her journey, I knew this wasn’t the story I’d been expecting. After she joins the boy’s hockey team, she realizes she’ll do anything to keep playing, even if it means keeping quiet about the abuse and sexual harassment she experiences from her own team. Ultimately, Michigan’s story is about a girl exercising her voice, and the struggle of being a role model to a younger generation.
Michigan doesn’t start out as a fighter. When the girl’s team is cut from the school, she almost gives up on playing hockey. But then she sees a younger girl try out for her brother’s team, she’s inspired to do the same. Being one of the best players on the ice, she ends up making the boy’s team. However, nothing Michigan does is ever good enough for her teammates or the coach. Even when she becomes the top scorer, the praise always goes to someone else. This is what makes Michigan the interesting character she is. Whether it’s hazing, physical abuse, or sexual harassment, nothing is enough to make Michigan quit the team. She wants to skate, even if it means putting herself at risk.
Michigan’s motivations also add to her character. What pushes her forward isn’t her own personal self-gain or her will to beat the boys, but her position as a role model for younger girls. During her lowest moments, it is the next generation of girl hockey players that she is afraid for, not herself. She has to keep quiet about the abuse in order for every other girl to get her chance. When the hazing ultimately goes too far, she has to decide if her wish to see younger girls thrive in the hockey world is more important than her own personal safely.
The supporting characters in the novel, however, are lacking in terms of their contribution to Michigan’s struggles. Her best friend, Brie, is barely in the book, despite her supposed importance in Michigan’s life. When Brie abandons their team and leaves to attend a private school, Michigan begins to resent her absent friend. Similarly, the rest of her former teammates also begin to ignore her once their team is broken up. And when Brie and the teammates do eventually come back into Michigan’s life, all is easily forgiven. I would have liked to see more conflict within Michigan about the way her friends treat her. However, I enjoy the girls’ sisterhood and the bond they share, even though they no longer skate together.
Michigan Vs. The Boys is a story worth reading. Michigan is the kind of strong female character I want to see more of in young adult novels and in the world. I would recommend this novel to anyone who wants a story about girls kicking ass, but also the complicated reality of being a role model for a younger generation.
Michigan Vs. The Boys is on shelves today!
Emily-Anne Mikos is a student from the UBC Creative Writing BFA. She is currently writing her own novel and hopes to continue writing stories about women that don’t involve saviour complexes. She has decidedly abandoned real life for fictional worlds where bees are still thriving. #Savethebees.