________________ CM . . . . Volume XII Number 2 . . . . September 16, 2005


Deflection! (Sports Stories, 71).

Bill Swan.
Toronto, ON: James Lorimer, 2004.
105 pp., pbk. & cl., $8.95 (pbk.), $16.95 (cl.).
ISBN 1-55028-852-0 (pbk.), ISBN 1-55028-853-9 (cl.).

Subject Headings:
Hockey stories.
Grandfathers - Juvenile fiction.
Teamwork (Sports) - Juvenile fiction.

Grades 3-8 / Ages 8-13.

Review by Dana Eagles-Daley.

*** /4

In Deflection, Bill Swan captures the excitement, confusion and frustration of being a young person while, at the same time, managing to tell an exhilarating story about a hockey team. The main character is Jake Henry who plays for the Bear Claws, the local house-league hockey team. As the Bear Claws skate and shoot their way through the hockey season, Jake learns to appreciate his family, to develop his hockey skills, and to be proud of his friends unconditionally.

     Jake certainly has an interesting and very supportive family. At the beginning of the story, he finds his family arrangement to be strange and slightly embarrassing. He lives with his mother and his stepfather, Fred. His biological father lives about three hours away, and, despite the distance, he tries to be a part of Jake’s life. Jake has three grandfathers; two are biological, and one is a step-grandfather. These three men, Grandpa Ron, Grandpa P.J. and Grandpa Cowbells, create much of the great comic element in the book as they guide and encourage Jake. Many readers may be able to identify with Jake’s embarrassment when Grandpa Ron repeats constantly his stories of going to school with Bobby Hull. Also embarrassing is the way in which Jake’s whole family, especially Grandpa Cowbells, cheer and make noise during his hockey games. It is when Grandpa Cowbells is unable to attend a game that Jake realizes how much he and his whole team count on the support of all of their families, especially Grandpa Cowbells. Altogether, these characters make for a compelling story.

     It is worthwhile to note that, although Jake’s parents are divorced, all of his relatives are happy to get together. Grandpa P.J. is Jake’s step grandfather, but he is just as supportive as Jake’s biological grandparents. Jake’s stepfather, Fred, and his father, Dann, enjoy playing a game of chess together. This portrayal of a blended family must surely be encouraging and refreshing for a lot of readers, especially for those who are, themselves, part of a blended family. By the end of the story, Jake realizes that he is incredibly lucky to have such a supportive and dedicated family, even if they are strange.

     Jake’s hockey skills rapidly develop during the season. In large part, this development is due to the attention of his grandfathers. They understand Jake’s passion for the sport, and they try to nurture it in many ways. In fact, it is Grandpa Ron who stands up for Jake when Jake refuses to attend a family reunion because of a conflict with an important hockey tournament on that same weekend. Grandpa Ron and Grandpa P.J. are both hockey players as well as fans, and so they often take the time to offer suggestions to Jake. At the beginning of the book, Jake and his friends are fairly dismissive of these tips, but, towards the end of the book, Jake and his friends start to listen, with great results. Jake’s grandfathers are very proactive about helping the team:

“Coach Rajah, could you use a couple of old guys to help you out there today?” Grandpa P.J. asked as he strode through the dressing room door...

They took seats on the bench. Grandpa P. J. looked over at Tyler. “I heard you ask a question. Are you out if you lose tomorrow night?” he said. “That’s what best-of-three series means. When you’re one game down, you have your backs to the wall. It’s do or die. Now or never.”

“Good stuff,” said Coach Rajah. “This team is always short of cliches.”

“You mean we can help?” asked Grandpa Ron.

Rajah smiled. “Sure. And after, maybe you could split some kindling for the hot stove league. You didn’t bring cowbells did you?”

“That’s Jake’s other grandfather,” said Simon.

“No, no,” said Grandpa Ron. “But I could get some...”

“Ron,” said Grandpa P.J. “He’s pulling your leg.”

Grandpa Ron nodded, said, “Oh,” and began to lace his skates.


     Some of the help that Jake receives is unexpected. Grandpa Cowbells, despite his amazing enthusiasm, does not actually play hockey. However, he gives Jake fiddle lessons, something which Jake learns to appreciate in several ways because the fiddle lessons actually help him with his hockey skills. The fiddle lesson scenes are touching and realistic.

     Jake and his teammate, Victoria, share a passion for playing in net. When Victoria’s family decides that Victoria should have more time playing in net at Jake’s expense, their mutual love of the goalie position becomes a conflict. Eventually, the friends stop talking to one another. Then, as the friends progress through the season, they watch each other play, and their admiration for each other’s talents ultimately supersedes any feelings of jealousy. In fact, Jake often takes note of Victoria’s skills and accomplishments. When Jake accepts Victoria’s superior skill as a goalie, he decides to focus on his other hockey skills, and he improves markedly. Jake realizes that he can be happy for his friend and still acknowledge her skill.

     Bill Swan writes about age-old themes in Deflection. Jake and his friends learn about themselves in the context of developing their hockey game while Jake discovers that families come in all kinds of arrangements. Refreshingly, Swan writes the story with accessible yet exciting language, and he does it in such a way that the plot is exhilarating.


Dana Eagles-Daley is a Special Education Teacher and Yoga Instructor in Ottawa, ON.


To comment on this title or this review, send mail to cm@umanitoba.ca.

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