________________ CM . . . . Volume XXI Number 23 . . . . February 20, 2015


Reality Check in Detroit. (Screech Owls).

Roy MacGregor.
Toronto, ON: Tundra Books, 2015.
183 pp., trade pbk. & ebook, $9.99 (pbk.).
ISBN 978-1-77049-422-0 (pbk.), ISBN 978-1-77049-427-5 (ebook).

Grades 4-6 / Ages 9-11.

Review by Penny McGill.

**½ /4



Hockey is like any sport: you're only as good as the player you are trying to be. If you fight fair, if you play hard, and honestly, you'll have already won something. The lights, the cameras... none of that really means anything."

It had been good to see the old inspired Muck again - even just for a few minutes. Travis was sure he had never heard Muck make such a long speech to the team. It had to be something he felt strongly about.

The Owls then stood in a circle, banged gloves, elbowed each other, and tapped their sticks on the floor of the trailer. They were ready to compete.

But despite Muck's talk, Travis had to admit that the "stage" where they were competing was going to look great on television. The sun was bright and the setting magnificent. The air was so crisp and clean it felt like someone had freshly washed it. The outdoor rink was gorgeous. It looked timeless, as if the Owls had stepped into a scene that existed a hundred years ago, fifty years ago, ten years ago, and right this minute - all at once. This was going to be fun.

In Reality Check in Detroit, readers return to the lives of the Screech Owls, a peewee hockey team from a small town in northern Ontario, as they are swept up in a reality TV show that will take place in Detroit. Author Roy MacGregor's reassuring formula of a co-ed group of kids playing games in an unfamiliar environment while they solve a mystery is set against the backdrop of a depressed downtown Detroit. The main events of the story allow the players and coach to reflect on their bleak surroundings - Travis thinks that downtown Detroit reminds him of War of the Worlds - and this sets up one of the themes of the book and the reality TV show itself - a comparison of the haves and the have-nots.

      It's not all abandoned buildings and empty streets, though, and the Screech Owls experience all of the wonders of an away tournament. They enjoy breakfast buffets, share hotel rooms with their teammates, visit local landmarks like the Henry Ford estate and the Fist (a monument to Joe Louis) and tear it up on the ice together and against their opponents, the Detroit Motors. MacGregor doesn't hold back on all that is good about playing hockey with the player chatter on the ice, silliness in the dressing room and the pleasure of spending time with your teammates.

      The absence of parents gives them a special freedom to explore the city, and it forces the players to make their own decisions about how they will cope with the pressure from the television producers. On more than one occasion, they are encouraged to play up the situations that will work well on the screen, and their reactions to this stage management gives the players a chance to show their true colours, the personalities that have been so well demonstrated throughout this series. The book is filled with life lessons; some provided by challenges the players face and others by decisions they see their coach make, as he does when they meet a homeless man on the street. These moral vignettes are spread through the main action of the story so they are not too heavy-handed and provide a nice little boost to a book that focuses on the daily lives of young hockey players.

      Jam-packed with detailed hockey play-by-play, hockey trivia and one or two serious commentaries on current controversies, like the prevalence of concussions, the book could seem like it is oversaturated with the sport, but the variety of personalities on the team provide a balance. Their friendship and conversations off the ice as they try to navigate four days on camera allow Reality Check in Detroit to have another flavour and make it possible for non-hockey fans to enjoy this book. The main perspective comes from Travis, the level-headed and thoughtful captain, but his teammates include talkative kids, gigglers, and one outrageous defenceman, Nish, who got them involved in this reality show by sending a video of a fellow player to the TV network. Their coach is an old-fashioned man who volunteers because he loves the sport and wants to share his knowledge of how to play fair and have a good time.

      Keeping the elements of the 'mystery' going in this novel proves a little less satisfying than the story of the players and their time together as a team. Travis and his friends feel uncomfortable with the demands from the producers of the show in the first few chapters of the book, and this feeling increases as they are required to follow a script, change the way that they present themselves, and discover that they are being told a different story than their opposing team is being told. Once the Screech Owls become friends with the players on the opposing team, they find that the show they thought they were participating in is not the same as the one being created by two unreliable tv producers. They all work together to find a way to end the manipulation and embarrassment, and this ends the mysterious element of the book. If you were to read this book for a satisfying puzzle to solve, then you will find disappointment, but, if you wanted your friendship-filled junior novel with a side order of mystery it would fill your appetite. Hockey fans will love every page.


Penny McGill is a library assistant and children's programmer with the Waterloo Public Library in Waterloo, ON.

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

Copyright © the Manitoba Library Association. Reproduction for personal use is permitted only if this copyright notice is maintained. Any other reproduction is prohibited without permission.
Published by
The Manitoba Library Association
ISSN 1201-9364
Hosted by the University of Manitoba.

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