CM . . .
. Volume XII Number 4 . . . .October 14, 2005
Shay, the story's seventh grade protagonist, is captain of Brunswick Valley School's soccer team. Shay's problems begin during a game between his school and the rival St. Croix team. When Shay sees St. Croix's "Hawler the Mauler" purposely stomp on the Brunswick Valley goalkeeper's fingers, he doesn't think. He just head-butts Hawler in the stomach and that starts the brawl that leads to the referee's calling the School District Council. It turns out that Brunswick Valley School already has a poor reputation in terms of student behaviour. When the school's new principal is informed of the soccer incident, he decides to introduce a Code of Conduct and to make an example of the soccer team.
Shay lives with his grandad who used to be a soccer star and who has always reminded Shay that "rules are rules" and should be followed. Shay loves, respects, and wants to please his grandad. Consequently, he doesn't have much of a problem abiding by the new, somewhat questionable Code of Conduct. However, a number of his teammates quickly receive demerits and season suspensions from soccer so that, within a matter of days, Brunswick Valley is forced to withdraw from the league. When Shay receives his first demerit, he decides to go for bust (three demerits and suspension from the team) by stating that, "Getting a demerit for a hug is stupid and the Code of Conduct sucks." Now Shay's problems are keeping his suspension a secret from Grandad and finding a place for the soccer team to play for fun, since they've also been banned from the school's field. In their frustration, Shay and two of his teammates, Julie and Toby, decide they may as well break every rule in the Code of Conduct.
In the process of breaking the "no drugs" rule, the three hook up with "Ice," an infamous high-school senior. Although Ice discourages the kids from doing drugs, he does help them make the point that the Code of Conduct (or at least the way it is being applied) is inappropriate. Shay finds a place for all of the former members of the Brunswick Valley soccer team to play—a road at the back of the cemetery. When the kids decide they miss playing real games on real fields, Shay decides to find a way to get them back into the league. With the help of Ice, the Cemetery Road Wanderers are born and registered in the league. It turns out that Ice knows quite a bit about soccer and makes an excellent coach. By the time everyone else figures out who the Cemetery Road Wanderers really are, the team has "gone for glory" and won the league championship.
Suspended is narrated by Shay in the past tense. Shay is a believable and likeable protagonist; however, his quandaries during the first third of the book are not particularly gripping. While the behaviour of his teammates is similarly believable, a number of the adults in the story—such as the Brunswick Valley principal, Mr. Justason, and the St. Croix soccer coach—are far less credible. And Grandad's reaction, when he finally learns what Shay has been up to, is also difficult to believe.
Robert Rayner, author of Suspended and a former elementary school principal himself, probably had fun making Mr. Justason an unreasonable and inept principal, and young readers may enjoy this stereotypical portrayal. For this reader, Suspended really became engaging with the introduction—almost half-way through the book—of Ice. Along with the Wanderers, readers will cheer for this colourful, intriguing, and marvelously well-rounded character when it comes to the coaches' competition just before the championship game.
Karen Rankin is a Toronto, ON, writer and editor of children's stories.
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