Quan Barry’s field hockey tale is absolutely spellbinding

“To me, a witch is a woman that is capable of letting her intuition take hold of her actions, that communes with her environment, that isn’t afraid of facing challenges.” — Paulo Coelho

Magic and witches have always fascinated people. Whether witches were blamed for misfortunes like famine or called upon to provide healing potions for the sick, they have often popped up across time and literature. Fairy tales, Shakespeare and “Harry Potter’’ all have their own interesting takes on witches and magic. Our latest read takes us to a small town in Massachusetts in 1989.

We Ride Upon Sticks by Quan Barry

Plunk “Heathers,” “The Craft,” a field hockey stick and a can of Aqua Net into a blender and you’ll get Quan Barry’s clever novel. “We Ride Upon Sticks” follows the 1989 Danver Falcons varsity field hockey team as they embark on an unconventional team-bonding activity, forming a coven, to ensure their team makes it to the state championships. This particular tale of witchcraft goes far beyond the typical teen hocus pocus after the teammates sign their name in the devil’s book, which happens to be a journal plastered with Emilio Estevez’s face (for younger readers, he played the jock in the iconic 80s movie “The Breakfast Club”). As the team surprisingly improves throughout the season, each of the varsity teammates comes into her own with the help of their chaos causing rituals and Emilio.

Adding to the 80s hijinks, the teens live in the town where the Salem Witch Trials actually took place during the 17th century; the team captain Abby Putnam is actually a descendent of Ann Putnam, the teenage girl who claimed her neighbors were witches during the trials. The school is also putting on “The Crucible” for the fall play, weaving elements of the trials throughout the book as the teammates practice their spells and potions.

Barry’s writing, which at time can feel just a bit long as the Falcon’s season progresses, gives readers a full understanding of each of the 11 players on the team. With so many characters to juggle, Quan successfully crafted distinct personalities for each one without muddying the literary waters. His book is chock full of 80s pop culture references and jokes as one of the girl’s hairstyles becomes a sentient character in the book referred to as the Claw. Readers are sure to chuckle over the wacky nature of the book, but it’s the growth and power of sisterhood that Barry’s characters experience that will keep you turning the page.

From the book jacket…

Helmed by good-girl captain Abby Putnam (a descendant of the infamous Salem accuser Ann Putnam) and her co-captain Jen Fiorenza (whose bleached blond “Claw” sees and knows all), the Falcons prove to be wily, original, and bold, flaunting society’s stale notions of femininity in order to find their glorious true selves through the crucible of team sport and, more importantly, friendship.

If you enjoy…

Readers who enjoyed “We Ride Upon Sticks” might also be interested in reading “The Crucible” by Arthur Miller given that the play is often referenced in Barry’s book. Those who have already given the play a read might enjoy “I, Tituba, Black Witch of Salem” by Maryse Condé, which tells a fictionalized story of one of the historical figures from the Salem trials.