Set in the coastal town of Danvers, Massachusetts, where the accusations began that led to the 1692 Salem witch trials, We Ride Upon Sticks by Quan Barry follows the losing 1989 Danvers High School Women’s Varsity Field Hockey Team on their spectacular rise to the state tournament. With a little help from spiritual forces, the team begins winning their games. So how does a team of losers find themselves scoring their way to the state tournament? They make a pact with the dark side.
“Our secret? Over the course of the week, alone and in pairs, each of us made the grim pilgrimage to Mel’s second floor dorm room and signed our names in her battered notebook . . . And with every new signature, Mel would cut another thin blue strip off one of her old stretched-out athletic socks and tie it around our arm just above the muscle where we could keep it hidden under our shirtsleeves, the sock a secret sign of our allegiance to what Heather Houston simply called an alternative god . . . we didn’t even have to believe.”
What could possibly go wrong?
We Ride Upon Sticks is packed full of 80’s pop culture – from big hair to sugary breakfast cereals to blockbuster movies. The humor, the historical references, the creative plot, the empowerment of teenage girls, the push back against traditional gender roles . . . these things worked for me. Quan Barry is hilarious; her comedic timing is spot on. Her cultural references are the fun ones – the Kool Aid- dyed hair and shellacked bangs that defied gravity. One of the mothers sports shoulder pads “bigger than anything the New England Patriots’ offensive line ever wore.”
What didn’t work for me was that the 80’s weren’t that great if you were adulting. And I was adulting big time. Remember scrunchies and permed hair and shoulder pads and power suits? Remember the rise of the consumer culture? Remember yuppies? Remember Reagonomics and the recession? Remember the New Right and the emergence of trickle down economics? Remember the Iran-Contra affair? Yep. I remember. So I’m sorry that I couldn’t get back into the 80’s.
But, in comparison, it was a simpler time. Barry reminds us in this description as the team arrives at prom: “That night as we the Class of 1990 filed in with our dates, the DJ was playing an assortment of instrumental songs, stuff like “Axel’s Theme” from Beverly Hills Cop 2 and the themes to Chariots of Fire and Miami Vice. At the door . . . there were no pat downs to get in, no metal detectors, no searching people’s bags, no breathalyzers.” Remember the olden days?
Maybe you have fond memories of the 80’s. Maybe you were in high school then and what you remember is watching MTV and wearing Air Jordans and parachute pants. Maybe you remember playing Atari and Rubik’s Cube, or if you were younger, a Teddy Ruxpin or a Cabbage Patch Doll. Then We Ride Upon Sticks may be for you. I’d recommend this book for . . . you.
This is Lin Salisbury with Superior Reviews.