Hat Trick by Jacqueline Guest

A double life is twice as hard.

Leigh loves hockey, and she’s good at it — but the boys on her team have decided it’s “no girls allowed.” To complicate things even more, her mom starts pushing her to begin a dance career. The time has come for Leigh to find a way to stand up for herself, on and off the ice.

Or so the back copy says. Me, I’m going to advise you to ignore the back cover, because it makes it sound like Leigh is being pressured at from all sides: hostile jerks for teammates; an aggressive, possibly vicariously-successful mother — and that Leigh is a pushover. So let’s clear things up, because that ^^ is not really a book I’d want to read, but Jacqueline Guest’s Hat Trick was enjoyable. And I know next to nothing about hockey.

Item one, it’s not really “the boys on her team.” It’s mostly one boy, Jimmy. The captain. He is a problem, and there’s one practice when he and his larger, older, friends on the team go out of their way to check Leigh aggressively… but it’s not really a hugely ongoing problem, and even during the worst of it, there are decent boys, especially Robert, whose teammate-ship never wavers.

That was one of the cool things about the book: even minor characters like Robert and Jimmy’s friend Trevor have backstory, even subtle character arcs. They aren’t static, faceless backdrop characters, they’re people.

Item two, Leigh’s mother isn’t really pushing at her. Leigh is glad to do the traditional Fancy Dancing with her mother and the other women. Leigh’s parents are divorced: her mother is proudly Tsuu T’ina; her father is secretly Métis. Leigh loves her mother and willingly spends her weekends with her on the reserve. The bigger problem is that her father doesn’t want to talk about his heritage, and consequently Leigh doesn’t talk about that part of her life with anybody. She’s pale-skinned and can pass as white. Secrets — not talking about Fancy Dancing and her Tsuu T’ina and Métis heritage with her father or anyone at school, not talking about hockey with her mother, who fears Leigh might suffer an accident as she did in her youth — are the problem, not parental pressure.

Which leads me to another cool thing about this book: both Leigh’s worlds (reserve and city) are active and thriving, and Leigh is invested and involved in both. Her mum’s Fancy Dancing circle is only one of the many regular and ongoing cultural activities that take place during Saturdays on the reserve. Leigh and her mum enjoy traditional foods as well as pizza. Leigh’s dad is eternally supportive of (embarrassingly so, maybe?) her hockey prowess, as is Tina, Leigh’s best friend, even if she doesn’t share Leigh’s love of the sport and acceptance of its physically rougher side.

Oh, and that’s another thing about the book. Leigh has a best friend. This best friend is a total Trekkie, fluent in Klingon and everything. Their relationship, like the relationship between Leigh and her teammates, feels thoroughly longstanding, as solid and unneeding of description as if it had been established in previous books. (Which I don’t think it has? Pretty sure this is a standalone; if you know otherwise, lemme know!) Which isn’t to say everything is perfect; but we the reader know that Leigh has one person in her corner at all times. More than one, if you count her parents. And certain teammates. Even if Tina speaks in Star Trek analogies and has to translate herself to Leigh.

Also, Leigh has more than one girl friend: she and Tina cautiously extend the olive branch to Susan, their classmate and the sister to Jimmy. (Yeah, that Jimmy.) Susan’s transformation from snotty, popular girl who has it in for Leigh to a fun, laughter-loving friend is an unconvincingly abrupt about-face. On the other hand! It’s still a pleasant surprise to find books where the mean girl is an actual person, not just an obstacle, and where there’s more than one athletic girl (without the two being bitter rivals), and where girls who already have friends make friends with other girls who already have friends, so… I’m inclined to let this pass.

On the other hand, Susan makes a rather sexist remark when we first meet her (even if she’s quoting), which is out of character with what we see of her in the rest of the story. Her story arc needs smoothing.

Item three, it isn’t a question of which Leigh will choose between Fancy Dancing and hockey. She does both, and she’s going to continue to do both (um, not really a spoiler); when a conflict comes up (again, not a spoiler) it is very clear from the beginning which Leigh will choose. The only question is how she will manage her choice. (Hint: go back to that point about secrets, and add in a dose of ill-conceived middle grade plans. Leigh is twelve, by the way.)

To sum up, Hat Trick has:

  • an Indigenous (Tsuu T’ina and Métis) girl as a protagonist
    • who loves her culture(s)
    • who is learning the Tsuu T’ina language and tradition of Fancy Dancing
    • who has loving parents
    • who lives in the city and on the reserve in a modern-day setting
  • athletic girls! nerd girls! friendships between them in spite of totally different interests!
  • hockey team dynamics
    • boys who aren’t jerks
    • boys who start out jerks but grow up
    • boys who are mostly jerks but who aren’t evil, and who get over it
    • decent coaches
  • sports stuff! I don’t know much about hockey, and what I do know came almost entirely through Check, Please!, but that wasn’t a barrier to reading and understanding this book
  • a mystery, because someone is leaving mysterious nasty notes shoved into Leigh’s locker and threatening messages on Leigh’s answering machine at home. Da da da dummmmm…

If you’re looking for a low-drama, high-friendship sports story with positive contemporary Indigenous content, give Hat Trick a shot.