Cracking the Ice by Dave Hendrickson
Publisher: Westside Books
Length: Full Length (365 pgs)
Age Level: 14+
Rated: 4 stars
Reviewed by Snapdragon
Delves into the perilous world of a black teen hockey phenom in 1968, during the highly charged Civil Rights era. Jessie leaves home for New Hampshire, despite misgivings of his parents and girlfriend Rose, to pursue his dreams at an elite, formerly all-white prep school, which he hopes will put him on the path to the Ivy League and NHL. He is realistic about encountering racist fans and opponents at his new school, but finds that he’s in the most danger from his own teammates and coach, who clearly despises him based only on the color of his skin. Full of exciting on-ice action and heart-wrenching realism, Cracking the Ice will have readers rooting for Jessie as he fights for what any standout student and athlete deserves.
The best of Cracking the Ice is on the ice – hockey descriptions are in-the-moment, bring-you-there. “Jessie cradles the puck on his stick and took off, skating ahead ten feet, then dropping the puck and cutting to the left…” Hockey is important, not only as the game itself, but how it impacts the dreams and goals of the main character.
Ultimately, this is a personal journey story: goals, and the future are what drive the main character and the plot. He’s an admirable young man, ethical and strong, but he lives at a time when those dreams seem one step too far: Jessie is a young black man, in the late 60s.
The Civil Rights movement is in full swing; Martin Luther King is a hero – and those events are important backdrop and in a odd way, parallel some of the action. For Jessie gets an opportunity: he’s accepted at a predominantly white prep school with an amazing hockey team. This school might be the ticket to his dreams – but then things start to go wrong. The coach doesn’t want him, even if the principal does. Coarse players go from hazing to threats to worse. The reader will worry and hope that what seems predictable downward turn of events will not be the actual events. The dark side here is dark indeed. It must be admitted that this is an unsettling story. It will stir emotion and anger and leave one wondering how our world could have ever been like this. It is however, sadly believable.
Spoilers would do this story no good at all; it is a worthy, if heartwrenching read, with a fair amount of violence. The best of humanity is explored — and some of the worst, exposed. It is very readable, written with a clear and powerful voice, and is engaging from beginning to end.