We Ride Upon Sticks by Quan Barry
Genres: Fiction, Historical Fiction
Maturity Level: 4
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From the author of the widely acclaimed She Weeps Each Time You’re Born comes a new novel, at once comic and moving. Set in the coastal town of Danvers, Massachusetts (which in 1692 was Salem Village, site of the origins of the Salem Witch Trials), it follows the Danvers High field hockey team as they discover that the dark impulses of their Salem forebears may be the key to a winning season.
In this tour de female force, the 1989 Danvers Falcons are on an unaccountable winning streak. In chapters dense with ’80s iconography–from Heathers to Big Hair–Quan Barry expertly weaves together the individual and collective journeys of this enchanted team as they storm their way to the state championship. Helmed by good-girl captain Abby Putnam (a descendant of the infamous Salem accuser Ann Putnam) and her co-captain Jen Fiorenza, whose bleached blond “Claw” sees and knows all, the DHS Falcons prove to be as wily and original as their North of Boston ancestors, flaunting society’s stale notions of femininity in order to find their glorious true selves through the crucible of team sport.
Apparently putting a speculative slant is the way to get me to read literary fiction. Add in a nice healthy sense of humor and teens overly into their extra-curricular activities and I am all in. I really enjoyed this quirky, smart book.
The writing is partly what makes this book so unique. The prose are dense. Not much dialogue, lots of commentary. It’s written in the first person plural, which was a little weird, but I promise it makes sense with the plot. Eventually. There’s also a great sense of humor and fun, though it’s not the kind of thing you’ll laugh out loud to. More like, I was reading and thought to myself “that was funny.” Yeah, this definitely isn’t a page turner. But I liked the way it was written. More importantly, I liked what Barry had to say. About her characters. About the 80s. About being a woman.
A love for the 80s permeates the prose. It’s everywhere. I don’t know if it’s possible to be nostalgic for a year you were too young to remember (what with being in diapers), but I was. Even the big prom dresses made me sigh instead of cringe. Barry infused the year 1989 with MAGIC.
Salem and its history are a constant presence as well. It’s obvious that Barry, having lived in Danvers, has a passion for the Salem Witch Trials. I loved how she incorporated the women, events, and even themes from The Crucible into the plot and character arcs. It really connected the past and present in a powerful way that makes the experience of discovering yourself timeless.
The characters are what really makes this book, though. Each girl was unique, but fully realized, even if they didn’t realize it themselves. (See what I did there?) This book is the quintessential coming-of-age story, except usually coming of age doesn’t involve selling your soul to Emilio Estevez in notebook form. The girls discover how the people they want to be, the people they ARE, isn’t necessarily who they expected. They learn that society’s expectations for them don’t have to determine their destiny. Each girl grows, each girl learns how to TAKE happiness, not wait around for it.
I appreciated the uplifting ending. Really, that’s all I want from a book. Something empowering and hopeful. And We Ride Upon Sticks WAS. Maybe our lives aren’t perfect, but they’re ours, and that’s worth something.
Highly recommend for fans of coming of age stories, the Salem Witch Trials, and smart humor.