We Ride Upon SticksWe Ride Upon Sticks by Quan Barry
My rating: 4/5 cats
One StarOne StarOne StarOne Star

fulfilling my 2021 goal to read one ARC each month i’d been so excited to get my hands on and then…never read

Sometimes you do things because everyone else is doing them. The force of the herd keeps you moving forward. If you stop, then whatever’s lurking on the edge of the savannah will jump on you and break your back, leaving you unable to move as it feasts on your innards.

towards the beginning of this ARC, i came across some sort of typo—a missing word, an odd phrasing—i don’t remember specifically what it was, but it was a significant enough glitch that my curiosity was roused, so i checked the store copy against my ARC and wow. there are so many differences between what i read and what people who waited for the book to come out read, i need a moment to work out some feels about it.

see, i used to refuse to read ARCs, even when they were offered to me, because i didn’t want to read a draft of a book, especially if it was from an author i liked—i didn’t want to miss any of their precious words. but then i became part of the discover program at BN, so i had to read tons of ARCs and after getting accustomed to that sweet early access, my greed for BOOK—WANNIT NOW overrode any apprehension i felt. and for the most part, changes between ARCs and the final product are cosmetic in nature and the meat of the story is unaffected. i got complacent, but now, after this SHOCK, i’m back to fretting about this and, really, all of my decisions.

i know there are some stodgy cranks out there who question whether audio books count as reading (they do. of course they do). but what about this situation? have i read the book or have i just gotten the gist of the book? what does it do to the story that in the ARC, mel made “an unbelievable seventy-two saves in net,” and in the published paperback, it was reduced to a less-unbelievable (?) fifty-two? what does it mean that sue’s hair is kool-aid-dyed “triple awesome grape” in my ARC but changed to “purplesaurus rex” in the final draft? probably not much, but what about these three pages of backstory that didn’t make it into the final draft (or were moved somewhere beyond where my admittedly casual comparison of the two occurred)? and what about the all-new material i discovered during this inspection—so many words i didn’t get to read! if mortality wasn’t a thing, i’m sure i would take the time to read the finished product (and to be clear—i really WANT TO), but all i can do is wonder about all the ARCs i have read and whether ANY of what i’ve EVER said in a review can even be trusted. maybe The Maidens was spectacular, but i missed out by reading the ARC and i should reevaluate my negative review of it…

mes amis, i am shook.

so i guess take everything i say with a grain of salt. always.

what iiii read was a flawed but fun anthem of a novel about teengirls coming into their power. there are way too many characters, and it’s told in that always-problematic collective voice, where “we” stands in for all eleven members of a field hockey team and also maybe some anthropomorphized sentient non-living entities, but it’s got so much heart and esprit, nothing’s gonna stop it. set in 1989 danvers, massachusetts (not too far from my rhode island hometown), this brought back a ton of temporal and regional touchpoints: kiss 108 fm, bubblers, jimmies, ann & hope, etc., and i loved all of these details immensely. being from a french-canadian enclave myself, i especially adored mel boucher and her quebecois blasphemy taking me right back to my 1980s childhood.

little rhody may not have had the historical witch-laden baggage of a town like danvers (née salem village), but the ceaseless yearning of smalltown teengirls for something to happen is universal; the insatiable hunger that was silently growing inside each and every one of us like a tumor. these girls find their power through some dark meddling with ancient forces they camouflage beneath the innocent boy-next-door smirk of 1980’s emilio estevez, becoming an unstoppable field hockey force and settling some unrelated injustices along the way.

What could possibly go wrong? We were an eleven man bevy of newly empowered teen girls. Abby Putnam was right. It was our time. Every three hundred years or so, our kind gets loosed upon an unsuspecting world. And this time around the history books would know us as the 1989 Danvers High School Women’s Varsity Field Hockey Team. Be. Aggressive. B-E aggressive.

from the synopsis, i thought this was going to be similar to Bunny, and it shares the same kind of messy energy and girlmagic, but this one is a much more fun version of the theme—chaotic and celebratory, the whole sound, fury, and fierce loyalty of adolescent girlhood unleashed on the unsuspecting world; a daisy chain of secrets and rituals, fetishized objects, confessions, indiscretions, and ambition solidifying the sisterhood and embodying the particular experiences of growing up girl.

at least, that’s what the book i read was about.

in case your copy is missing these words, here’s a passage i particularly appreciated:

Amazingly, while Mrs. Bjelica dressed her young daughter in somber stain-resistant blacks, in addition to developing a size FF cup, Becca also managed to develop a light and pleasant personality. In a way, she had to. When men passed her on the street with their tongues balled up in their cheeks while blowing away on their air trombones, she pretended it was all harmless fun. It was a defense mechanism women have been perfecting since the dawn of time, to act breezy and light like the fuzz on a dandelion gone to seed. To be anything but kind in the face of male desire was dangerous. Nobody had to teach us this lesson—it was just something we knew from the earliest days on the playground. If a boy liked you and you didn’t like him back, you had to smile and laugh or else he might put a spider in your desk. If a boy pulled your hair, the adult playground monitor would coo, “Somebody likes you.” If a boy bit you and left a scar, that was the price you paid for being a cute little girl made out of tasty things like sugar and spice. If a man pumped his fist in front of his face when he passed you on the street, you had to smile and blush and act like you were seriously considering it but lordy lord, you just didn’t have the time, thank you very much for thinking of me and have a lovely day.

the emotional tone of this book is young, propulsive fun, but like teengirls themselves, there’s a bright thread of hard truths woven in throughout that elevates this into more thoughtful territory, even though some of its edges remain a bit unfinished.

or not. you tell me.

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