Remember writing book reports in middle school? We’re bringing them back as we read books that feature girls or women’s hockey this off season.
Trigger Warning: Michigan vs. The Boys deals with sexual assault and its aftermath. This is a very sensitive issue that can be very triggering for a lot of people — please be warned and read at your own discretion!
Title: Michigan vs. The Boys
Author: Carrie S. Allen
Rating: ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️ (5 stars)
Michigan Manning is a high school hockey player competing for high school’s girls’ team…until the school eliminates the program due to budgetary cuts. She’s forced to decide between traveling more than an hour to compete for a rival club, try out for her school’s boys’ team, or quit the sport that’s given her everything.
While the rest of her team scatters, Michigan decides to try out for the boys’ team — and makes the roster. Michigan vs. the Boys follows a season that is the heartbreaking reality for so many girls and women in hockey across the world — a season filled not only with struggles against rival teams, but struggles within her own team as Michigan is forced to contend with sexism from her new teammates, from her coaching staff, and from her school’s administration.
Who is your favorite character and why?
My favorite character is undoubtedly Michigan — she’s the perfect mirror of the strength and resilience demonstrated by so many real women’s hockey players across the globe. Michigan has her fair share of flaws and frustrating moments, among them her unwillingness to accept defeat. To be completely cheesy and quote Ralph Waldo Emerson, “Our strength grows out of our weakness.” Michigan takes her stubbornness and uses it to play to her strengths and prove her worth.
Where does the book take place?
Michigan vs. The Boys is set in the Upper Peninsula of Michigan, sometime after the United States women’s national hockey team won their second Olympic gold at the 2018 Olympics in PyeongChang. Allen even makes a couple of references to some Team USA greats, like Julie Chu, Amanda Kessel, and Hilary Knight — who, in Allen’s own words in an email with The Ice Garden, is still “clutch,” and the kind of player to have you “out of [your] seat every time she takes a big shot.”
Putting some of today’s players (and their histories) into a fictional universe makes the story come alive just a little bit more for me. I feel a little more connected to Michigan, because I, too, idolize Hilary Knight and Amanda Kessel, and try and soak up every detail I can of their playing careers.
What was the best part of the book and why?
My favorite part of the book was the ending. Obviously, I won’t give anything away, but the end evoked so many strong emotions that served as a reminder to me of why I love this game so much.
Michigan’s story isn’t wholly her own — it’s the story of girls, women, and marginalized athletes everywhere. While a lot of the story’s resolution represents what would come about in an ideal world, it’s “not acceptable or realistic,” says Allen. “It would be fantastic if every girl felt comfortable standing up for herself when she’s bullied, heckled, harassed, abused.”
But that’s not always the case — and while Michigan’s story may have had a happy, heartwarming ending, there’s still that reminder that a happy ending is not in store for a lot of girls and women in hockey. I liked the ending because I’m exhausted by the constant abuse and vitriol aimed at these players that I witness on social media, but I recognize that it’s not necessarily a reality for many of the women that have gone through struggles like Michigan’s.
Would you recommend this book to a friend?
100% yes. Whether said friend is a hardcore or casual fan of women’s OR men’s hockey doesn’t matter; everyone can learn something about strength of character and what it means to stand up for yourself, and for the next generation of girls and women in sports, from Michigan vs. The Boys.
What comes next?
If you just finished the book and are feeling empowered, don’t worry — there’s a lot of work still to be done to make hockey safer for girls like Michigan, and for all the girls she represents. In author Carrie S. Allen’s words, we have to “step up. Whether you’re advocating for the girl to get her own locker room or her own league. Make Michigan vs. The Boys obsolete. Make it a relic of a time period that no longer exists. Make women in sport so valued, so equal, so respected and celebrated, that there is no longer a need for my books.”
Don’t sit back and let professional men’s hockey leagues skate by on an investment of less than a tenth of a percent of their annual profits, not when they make empty promises of their sport being open and accepting to everyone. Demand better from the people who have the platform and the following to make a difference. Be vocal in your support of the girls and women in your communities — show up to their games, celebrate their accomplishments. Make their presence known to every single person who would try and stuff them into a closet to change. Insist that women be given the means and the space and the opportunities not only too exist, but to thrive.
Editor’s Note: If you’d like to purchase the book, we highly recommend shopping local. Even with local stores being closed due to the pandemic, many are offering delivery. You can also purchase ebooks and audio books from many local bookstores too. Find your local bookstore at Indie Books or Bookshop.