Friday, 28 September 2012

TBC: Rookie

I've been busy doing lots of stuff lately - the last few mailings for Playoff Pool prizes, the radio show, and life in general - and Teebz's Book Club has sort of been pushed to the background. However, with life slowing down for me now as we transition from summer into autumn and winter, Teebz's Book Club is making a solid return. TBC is proud to present Rookie, written by Lorna Schultz Nicholson and published by James Lorimer & Company Ltd. Rookie is a look into Aaron Wong's first hockey season at Calgary's Podium Sports Academy where he is a top hockey recruit for the Academy. However, being a rookie is sometimes a difficult situation, and Lorna Schultz Nicholson does an excellent job in framing a very taboo subject in this book.

Lorna Schultz Nicholson has a full biography on her website, but there's a lot more to the author. Rookie is her ninth novel and the first book in her Podium Sports Academy series. Growing up in St. Catharines, Ontario, Lorna played volleyball, basketball, soccer, softball, and hockey and was also a member of the Canadian Rowing Team. Married to Hockey Canada President Bob Nicholson, Lorna and Bob are parents to two daughters and a son who plays junior hockey. During the hockey season, the Nicholsons serve as billets to various hockey players. She splits her time between Penticton, BC and Calgary, Alberta, and her two dogs and her cat keep her company when she's writing.

The story of Rookie surrounds Aaron Wong, a Chinese-Canadian Vancouver boy who was recruited to play at the Podium Sports Academy in Calgary. Wong prides himself on working hard and skating fast - two qualities that will take one far in the game. He realizes, however, that he'll have to be much better than he was in Vancouver if he hopes to crack the top line at Podium.

Standing in Aaron's way are some of the returnees. One player in particular, Tony "Rammer" Ramsey, seems to have it in for Aaron. Along with Tony, Steven "Killer" Kilby was the other "alpha male" in the dressing room as the two boys were the captain and assistant captain of the team. Aaron knew he had to work his tail off to gain acceptance by these new teammates, and he found a friend in fellow rookie Kade Jensen in his first few days at the school. Could he break the stigma of being a rookie and gain acceptance with the veteran players?

The chatter in the locker room over the next few days was about a party for just the hockey team. Aaron has an uneasy feeling about this party, but Kade and Aaron agree that it will be good to go and bond with the team. While Aaron is settling in on the ice, he discovers a new set of friends in Carrie, a synchronized swimmer, and Allie, a basketball player. Carrie and Aaron grow very close as they study and do homework together, but this closeness seems to only make Tony Ramsey hate Aaron more.

Kade and Aaron arrive at the party on Saturday night after a week of being at the Sports Academy, and discover that the veteran hockey players have been drinking - something banned by the school. Aaron and Kade, wanting to fit in, go with the flow, but things go awry almost immediately after they wander into the party. Their shirts are torn off, and Aaron is blindfolded! Aaron is pinned down, and, despite him fighting as best he can, his pants are torn off! What happens next is entirely a problem with some hockey programs today, and I will admit that it was difficult to read.

The fallout from the party affects Aaron in a major way. His relationship with Carrie finds itself on shaky ground as both Aaron and Carrie have a hard time admitting to some truths. While pranks on teammates are fun, hazing and embarrassment are not part of that fun, and Aaron finds himself stuck between admitting this happened and possibly ostracizing himself from the team, and fighting internally and with Carrie over how to handle this repulsive act.

I applaud Lorna Schultz Nicholson for tackling this very difficult subject. Some in the hockey community still see hazing as right of passage of sorts, and it still goes on today. There have been many incidents of hazing, and many players and coaches have been punished for their activities or lack thereof to prevent hazing. In short, Rookie takes a very serious subject that is kept behind closed doors in today's society and makes it a very real thing.

Lorna Schultz Nicholson does an excellent job illustrating the difficulty that Aaron Wong has in battling his internal demons after the hazing. Her writing style doesn't embellish the event, but she has an excellent handle on the aftermath for the victim in the struggle between outing those who committed the hazing and keeping quiet with regards to questions about sexual orientation and popularity in a high school setting. Rookie is an excellent book that I think all young adults should read when it comes to the topic of hazing because there is no shame or embarrassment in turning in those who commit these heinous acts.

Because of her excellent writing from Aaron's point-of-view and because she handles this topic so well, Lorna Schultz Nicholson deserves major accolades for this book. Again, she doesn't embellish the act of hazing and may have, in fact, toned it down considerably compared to some real-life incidents, but the internal battle that Aaron fights is illustrated extremely well. Because of these facts, Rookie absolutely deserves the Teebz's Book Club Seal of Approval!

I highly recommend buying this book for any younger hockey player so that they may see the consequences of hazing and how hazing jeopardizes the hockey careers of those that think hazing is "cool". It's not. It's just plain stupid.

Until next time, keep your sticks on the ice!

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