________________ CM . . . . Volume XXI Number 19 . . . . January 23, 2015


Bench Brawl. (Sports Stories).

Trevor Kew.
Toronto, ON: James Lorimer, 2014.
127 pp., pbk., hc. & ebook, $9.95 (pbk.), $16.95 (hc.), $7.95, (ebook).
ISBN 978-1-4594-0711-4 (pbk.), ISBN 978-1-4594-0712-1 (hc.), ISBN 978-1-4594-0713-8 (ebook).

Grades 6-8 / Ages 10-13.

Review by Beth Wilcox.

*** /4


“Is it really true what my father told me?” asks JB, just before we reach the dressing room. “This is the first practice for a team that will compete in the Vancouver Invitational Hockey Tournament?”

I feel my teeth tighten down on my lower lip. “Don’t believe everything you hear. No one is going to show up for this except you, me, and Cubby. They think they can make us play together -- Helmets and Gloves, but --”

JB looks at me like I am speaking Chinese. “Helmets? Gloves? What are you talking about?”

Before I can answer him, the door to the dressing room swings open. Standing there is a man who looks like an inflated version of Cubby, except with a bald head and a basketball-sized tummy. He is wearing a beige cowboy hat.

“Hey there, slow-pokes,” he says, giving me a big slap on the back. “C’mon in. Sit down. Get dressed. Today is a big day.”

I am not sure if my jaw actually drops when I step past him into the room. It sure feels that way. Because all around me, sitting on benches are players from the Helmets and the Gloves, slowly but surely getting dressed for practice.



Trevor Kew’s latest novel for the Lorimer “Sports Stories” series, Bench Brawl uses hockey to explore the effects of economic and social prejudices. Luke lives in Grand River, a small town in the interior of British Columbia where the community is more than physically divided by the river running through it. Luke is a star player with the Upper River Helmets, a team comprised entirely of youth from the white-collar community on one side of the water. The Helmets’ fierce rivals, the Lower River Gloves, choose their players from the part of town that is struggling after a factory closure. The rivalry between the teams extends off the ice, and most of the town seems to support this gang-mentality among the youth. When Grand River is invited to send a single hockey team to the prestigious Vancouver Invitational Hockey Tournament, the mayor decides to take this opportunity to unite the town and merge the two teams into one Grand River team. Both teams must overcome their prejudices and work together to succeed in the tournament.

     While Bench Brawl is undoubtedly a book intended to draw in hockey lovers, the novel will also appeal to readers who have little interest in the sport. The vast majority of the plot is dedicated to the interpersonal relationships and the feuding between the two teams rather than extensive hockey play-by-plays. This divide is bridged by a few players, including JB, a new kid in town and the only Francophone in the school who does not choose sides in the rivalry.

     The novel’s treatment of diverse characters is both a strength and a weakness. Its strength comes from the author’s treatment of Greg, Luke’s other brother, who the reader might infer has a developmental disability and is portrayed as a valued individual who makes significant contributions to the town team. On the other hand, the novel is significantly lacking in gender diversity. There are almost no female characters in the story apart from some brief appearances by mothers, a sister and teachers, and there seems to be no recognition of female hockey players.

     Although Bench Brawl is at a grade 3 reading level using the Fry scale, some of the sentence structure and vocabulary can be slightly above this reading level. However, the sports content and the treatment of social issues, such as bullying, make this novel a good option for readers looking for a high-interest, low-vocabulary novel.


Beth Wilcox is a graduate from the MA in Children’s Literature program at the University of British Columbia and a teacher-librarian in Prince George, BC.

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

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