The Hockey Saint, by Howard Shapiro
[Note: This book was provided free of charge by Net Gallery/Animal Media Group. All thoughts and opinions are my own.]
As someone born just outside of Pittsburgh, I have an interest in hockey even if I have never been an adept player of it . This book has at its core a friendship between two young men of about the same age. One of them is a scholarship student at a fictional Canadian college and the other is a local hockey star with a bad reputation, and the visual novel shows the complications that result as both of them wrestle with their responsibility and their loyalties. The result is an exciting story that demonstrates growth in character and maturity as people wrestle with their bad choices and the results of them. This is an inspirational tale of the kind that would likely be very appealing as very informative to teen and young adult readers–especially young men. Here we have a focus on friendship and family and sports, all of which ought to be of interest to a wide audience. This is the sort of story that I can easily imagine being successful in other media besides graphic novels, as this novel is part of a trilogy and naturally I started reading in media res.
The premise of the novel is a straightforward enough one, with a young man struggling to recover from the death of his parents living with his grandmother. Just as he is offered a role as a captain for his college team and a partial scholarship he becomes friends with a famous local hockey player whose bad reputation with the press is at odds with what the student sees of him as a quiet and somewhat reclusive person who smokes and drinks too much and is secretly married but who does a lot of good in community service that he tries to keep as private as possible. As a result of their budding friendship the two young men are put in a world of secrets where neither of them feel comfortable being open with those around them, all while the owner of an archrival is trying to dig up dirt on the hockey star, which results in a humorous twist that sets up the bittersweet ending, one that ends with life going on, if not the sort of outcome that the reader would expect from a book of this genre.
At its heart, this book reminds us, if any reminder is necessary, that there is often a wide gulf between the public reputation of a star athlete and the reality of their lives. This can work both ways. Someone who is thought of as being aloof and proud and difficult with the media can merely be shy and somewhat awkward. Likewise, someone whose athletic abilities can put them on a pedestal can be someone with serious problems that can cost them their lives if they refuse to face them and deal with them, as is the problem with addictions like smoking and drinking. Yet having loyal friendships can help us to become the sort of people that we were meant to be and can encourage the better angels of our nature to face responsibility for our lives and to build better relationships with other friends and family as well. This is a book that shows some definite growth on the part of its protagonists, and even manages to show a divide between the professional media and the blogosphere, of which some of us play a notable part. For its intended audience of young readers, the book is a reminder of the complicated aspects of adulting that are involved among those who are skilled at sports and which may escape those who are lost in hero worship.
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