Jennifer A. Irwin, author
Jennifer A. Irwin holds a master’s degree in English literature, as well as a bachelor's in education from McGill University. She teaches middle and senior school English at Lower Canada College. She lives in Montreal, Quebec, with her husband and two sons. Captain Skidmark Dances with Destiny is her first novel.
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Navigating adolescence is hard; family dynamics can make it even harder.
Thirteen-year-old Will Stone feels like a loser. He’s a skittish new student at Boundary Street Middle School in Evanston, Ontario. His dad, the new principal, has cachet as a former professional hockey player, while Will has earned a special level of disgrace after scoring a goal for the opposing team. Things might be looking up with the news that his cousin Alex, 17, will be coming from cosmopolitan Montreal to live with them. Will sees a potential cool protector. Instead, Alex turns out to be a surly slob. Worse, he becomes the hockey team’s new assistant coach. Deliverance comes unexpectedly: Will’s kinetic ricocheting as he flees bullies attracts the eye of Jesús Rodriguez, who invites Will into his dance studio. Will is leery, but the flattery of attractive Tessa Harper seals the deal. Will’s hockey skills fail to improve, but he doesn’t care as he tears it up on the dance floor, and his self-esteem blossoms. Now, how to break this news to his hockey-fanatic family? If the first half of Irwin’s bubbly debut is about finding one’s bliss, the second half tackles deeper, related questions about identity and masculinity. The first-person narrative sometimes feels too sophisticated for the hyper hero, but there’s consistent humor, compassion in abundance, and relatable characters. Will and his family read White; some ethnic diversity is cued in the supporting cast.
Adolescent angst and its issues unpacked with a caring, comic eye.
Will Stone may well be the worst hockey player ever to take the ice, but from the moment he’s roped into taking a ballroom-dancing lesson, he knows he’s got a gift. But what will his former NHL-star dad say when he finds out? Not to mention his caustic, scornful grandpa and the vicious tormentors who have made life at school a living hell? Except for the relentless bullying, Irwin delivers her debut’s events in a light tone, endowing her resilient but conflicted 13-year-old with comically painful adolescent issues. She also provides unexpected allies, both high-schoolers, in dance partner Tessa (“majestically hot”) and a newly arrived live-in cousin with pa-rental issues of his own. The author sets up cli-mactic tests of will that will leave readers with two inspiring examples of sons strong enough to chase their own dreams rather than those of their parents, at least one dad who is willing to learn from his mistakes, and a protagonist with a new outlook on a sport he used to hate. That’s some fancy footwork.
Page count: 320
51/2 x 81/4