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We Ride Upon Sticks

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Set in the coastal town of Danvers, Massachusetts (which in 1692 was Salem Village, site of the origins of the Salem Witch Trials), the story follows the Danvers High field hockey team as they discover that the dark impulses of their Salem forebears may be the key to a winning season.

The 1989 Danvers Falcons are on an unaccountable winning streak. Quan Barry weaves together the individual and collective journeys of this enchanted team as they storm their way to the state championship. 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 DHS Falcons prove to be as wily and original as their North of Boston ancestors, flaunting society's stale notions of femininity in order to find their glorious true selves through the crucible of team sport.

367 pages, Hardcover

First published March 3, 2020

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About the author

Quan Barry

10 books397 followers
Born in Saigon and raised on Boston’s north shore, Quan Barry is a professor of English at the University of Wisconsin–Madison and the author of four poetry books; her third book, Water Puppets, won the AWP Donald Hall Prize for Poetry and was a PEN/Open Book finalist. She has received NEA Fellowships in both fiction and poetry, and her work has appeared in such publications as Ms. and The New Yorker. Barry lives in Wisconsin.

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5 stars
3,513 (25%)
4 stars
5,816 (41%)
3 stars
3,397 (24%)
2 stars
984 (7%)
1 star
272 (1%)
Displaying 1 - 30 of 2,880 reviews
Profile Image for Roxane.
Author 118 books157k followers
June 20, 2020
Very dense prose. So so many characters. Field hockey! New England! Clever plot! A fine read!
Profile Image for Jessica Woodbury.
1,602 reviews2,045 followers
November 5, 2019
4.5 stars. What a goddamned delight of a book. I laughed at something nearly every paragraph. I got to know these characters deeply. This book understands the dark magic of teenage girls and opens it wide open, showing us just how powerful they are and I loved every minute of it.

The Danvers High School varsity Field Hockey team has 11 members and at first they are all a blur to you. But after a while you will know them all intimately, you will know Boy Cory's last name and Girl Cory's sketchy stepdad and Julie's ankle length dresses and you will most certainly know Jen's massive fringe of bangs referred to as The Claw throughout the novel. The team went 2-8 last year so the expectations for the 1989 season are not high, but that all changes with one notebook with Emilio Estevez on the cover where one by one the members of the team pledge themselves to dark forces so they can go to State. They are acting on reckless teen instinct, the need to declare and invent and decide that if you do X then Y will happen, and probably because Danvers is right by Salem and they've spent their whole lives hearing about teenage girls and pledges to the devil.

Their pledge sure seems to be working as things start turning around for the Lady Falcons. But there's also a growing need to appease "Emilio" along with the growing powers. I won't spoil anything for you but there's plenty of surrealist touches, and a perfect mix here of darkness, humor, and self-discovery. Let's be honest, self-discovery and self-empowerment can require you to go to some pretty dark places, but the team is ready.

Their story is written in first person plural, the rare "we" narrator. I do not often have much patience for unusual pov's in novels, but I am totally sold this time. The "we" works so well, the team is made up of individuals and we get to know them well but the team is also an entity, a powerful coven that is its own character in the book. The collective becomes such a driving force that it's hard to imagine the book being written any other way.

I felt like it took me a really long time to read this book. I have a bad habit of skimming/speed reading but with this book I couldn't do it at all. I had to read every single sentence. I had to savor every bite. I read it slowly but it was totally worth it. This is one of those truly unique books that is such a pleasure that you don't really want it to end.
Profile Image for chan ☆.
1,051 reviews49.1k followers
January 20, 2021
dnf @ 44%

this isn’t bad by any means, just not really something i’m super into. being more selective with what ya read also means putting down things that aren’t really your cup of tea (which is pretty hard for me but i’m working on it).
Profile Image for Julie .
4,027 reviews58.9k followers
March 1, 2021
We Ride Upon Sticks by Quan Barry is a 2020 Pantheon Books publication.

Field, Field, Field- Hockey, Hockey, Hockey

Danvers, Massachusetts has a dark history dating back to the 1692 witch trials. Centuries later, in 1989, a high school field hockey team on a losing streak, channels the elements of witchcraft to turn things around for them. To accomplish this, they sign their names in a notebook featuring the likeness of Emilio Estevez on the cover, and tying strips of old sweat socks around their arms. Sure enough, their luck begins to change- but is the witchcraft truly responsible?

’Reasonable’ was one of those words, like ‘beauty’. It was all in the eye of the beholder

I think I can credit Book Riot for putting this book on my radar, initially. It is not the type of book I typically read, as it is categorized as a YA, paranormal fantasy.

The ratings were so good, and the premise so intriguing, I had to check it out.

If you don’t speak up, you get what you get

The first striking thing about this book is the way in which it is written. There is one narrator for the entire team. One review I read referred to it as a ‘group-think’ narration- which is the best description of the writing style I found.

The downside, coupled with an ENORMOUS cast of characters, makes it hard to connect emotionally to anyone in the story.

The nostalgia is the next big thing that makes this story both fun, and a bit shocking, due to the absolute truths we were all bound to at that time. It was fun to revisit the cheesy eighties pop culture – some of which I’d forgotten all about. It was also a little unnerving to see how little attention was paid to subtle or even overt racism, classism, sexism or abuse.

The wit and humor also stand out and I caught myself more than once stifling a guffaw. Anyone who knows anything about the eighties will remember the big hair- which is featured prominently in the book- with ‘the claw’ almost becoming a character all its own.

The antics of the teenagers are riveting, as they travel down a path where one is never quite sure if they were helped along by a paranormal nudge, or if by a false confidence in that power. That will be up to you to decide…

Overall, this book is an odd combination of whimsy, humor, and suspense, encompassing a myriad of serious topics all centered on identity. I didn’t always like the direction of every single thread, and the large cast was a bit of a challenge, but I loved the imaginative presentation and found the book to be darkly fun and wildly entertaining.

4 stars
Profile Image for Rebecca.
235 reviews205 followers
June 21, 2022
“We were teen girls. Look up the word “blasé” in Merriam-Webster’s and you’d find a picture of us, our eyes burning through your soul from the page.”

We Ride Upon Sticks tells the story of the 1989 Danvers Falcons Field Hockey team, who have an extremely bad losing streak. Growing up on the site of the 1692 witch trials, the team (10 girls and 1 boy) is convinced that witchcraft will lead them to victory. Tying strips of blue socks to their arms and signing an oath in an Emilio Estevez notebook, the team begin to stir up trouble in their lives, believing that the more trouble they cause, the more the witchcraft works and the better chance they have to win the State Championship.

Written in third person plural it took me a while to get into this one. A lot happens in this book, including many characters and sub-plots to keep track of. However, once I got into the swing of things this was an absolute delight to read. It's quirky, filled with 80s pop culture references and has fantastic character development. I laughed out loud so many times.

A cross between Heathers, The Craft and every 80s teen movie I can think of. If you love witchy, coming of age, high school vibes, this is the book for you.
Profile Image for karen.
3,979 reviews170k followers
August 6, 2021
fulfilling my 2021 goal to read one ARC each month i'd been so excited to get my hands on and then...never read

Sometimes you do things because everyone else is doing them. The force of the herd keeps you moving forward. If you stop, then whatever's lurking on the edge of the savannah will jump on you and break your back, leaving you unable to move as it feasts on your innards.

towards the beginning of this ARC, i came across some sort of typo—a missing word, an odd phrasing—i don't remember specifically what it was, but it was a significant enough glitch that my curiosity was roused, so i checked the store copy against my ARC and wow. there are so many differences between what i read and what people who waited for the book to come out read, i need a moment to work out some feels about it.

see, i used to refuse to read ARCs, even when they were offered to me, because i didn't want to read a draft of a book, especially if it was from an author i liked—i didn't want to miss any of their precious words. but then i became part of the discover program at BN, so i had to read tons of ARCs and after getting accustomed to that sweet early access, my greed for BOOK—WANNIT NOW overrode any apprehension i felt. and for the most part, changes between ARCs and the final product are cosmetic in nature and the meat of the story is unaffected. i got complacent, but now, after this SHOCK, i'm back to fretting about this and, really, all of my decisions.

i know there are some stodgy cranks out there who question whether audio books count as reading (they do. of course they do). but what about this situation? have i read the book or have i just gotten the gist of the book? what does it do to the story that in the ARC, mel made "an unbelievable seventy-two saves in net,” and in the published paperback, it was reduced to a less-unbelievable (?) fifty-two? what does it mean that sue’s hair is kool-aid-dyed "triple awesome grape" in my ARC but changed to "purplesaurus rex" in the final draft? probably not much, but what about these three pages of backstory that didn't make it into the final draft (or were moved somewhere beyond where my admittedly casual comparison of the two occurred)? and what about the all-new material i discovered during this inspection—so many words i didn't get to read! if mortality wasn't a thing, i'm sure i would take the time to read the finished product (and to be clear—i really WANT TO), but all i can do is wonder about all the ARCs i have read and whether ANY of what i've EVER said in a review can even be trusted. maybe The Maidens was spectacular, but i missed out by reading the ARC and i should reevaluate my negative review of it...

mes amis, i am shook.

so i guess take everything i say with a grain of salt. always.

what iiii read was a flawed but fun anthem of a novel about teengirls coming into their power. there are way too many characters, and it's told in that always-problematic collective voice, where "we" stands in for all eleven members of a field hockey team and also maybe some anthropomorphized sentient non-living entities, but it's got so much heart and esprit, nothing's gonna stop it. set in 1989 danvers, massachusetts (not too far from my rhode island hometown), this brought back a ton of temporal and regional touchpoints: kiss 108 fm, bubblers, jimmies, ann & hope, etc., and i loved all of these details immensely. being from a french-canadian enclave myself, i especially adored mel boucher and her quebecois blasphemy taking me right back to my 1980s childhood.

little rhody may not have had the historical witch-laden baggage of a town like danvers (née salem village), but the ceaseless yearning of smalltown teengirls for something to happen is universal; the insatiable hunger that was silently growing inside each and every one of us like a tumor. these girls find their power through some dark meddling with ancient forces they camouflage beneath the innocent boy-next-door smirk of 1980's emilio estevez, becoming an unstoppable field hockey force and settling some unrelated injustices along the way.

What could possibly go wrong? We were an eleven man bevy of newly empowered teen girls. Abby Putnam was right. It was our time. Every three hundred years or so, our kind gets loosed upon an unsuspecting world. And this time around the history books would know us as the 1989 Danvers High School Women's Varsity Field Hockey Team. Be. Aggressive. B-E aggressive.

from the synopsis, i thought this was going to be similar to Bunny, and it shares the same kind of messy energy and girlmagic, but this one is a much more fun version of the theme—chaotic and celebratory, the whole sound, fury, and fierce loyalty of adolescent girlhood unleashed on the unsuspecting world; a daisy chain of secrets and rituals, fetishized objects, confessions, indiscretions, and ambition solidifying the sisterhood and embodying the particular experiences of growing up girl.

at least, that's what the book i read was about.

in case your copy is missing these words, here's a passage i particularly appreciated:

Amazingly, while Mrs. Bjelica dressed her young daughter in somber stain-resistant blacks, in addition to developing a size FF cup, Becca also managed to develop a light and pleasant personality. In a way, she had to. When men passed her on the street with their tongues balled up in their cheeks while blowing away on their air trombones, she pretended it was all harmless fun. It was a defense mechanism women have been perfecting since the dawn of time, to act breezy and light like the fuzz on a dandelion gone to seed. To be anything but kind in the face of male desire was dangerous. Nobody had to teach us this lesson—it was just something we knew from the earliest days on the playground. If a boy liked you and you didn't like him back, you had to smile and laugh or else he might put a spider in your desk. If a boy pulled your hair, the adult playground monitor would coo, "Somebody likes you." If a boy bit you and left a scar, that was the price you paid for being a cute little girl made out of tasty things like sugar and spice. If a man pumped his fist in front of his face when he passed you on the street, you had to smile and blush and act like you were seriously considering it but lordy lord, you just didn't have the time, thank you very much for thinking of me and have a lovely day.

the emotional tone of this book is young, propulsive fun, but like teengirls themselves, there's a bright thread of hard truths woven in throughout that elevates this into more thoughtful territory, even though some of its edges remain a bit unfinished.

or not. you tell me.

come to my blog!!
Profile Image for Blaine.
748 reviews608 followers
October 31, 2021
Every three hundred years or so, our kind gets loosed upon an unsuspecting world. And this time around, the history books would know us as the 1989 Danvers High School Women’s Varsity Field Hockey team. Be. Aggressive. B-E aggressive.
The 1989 Danvers High School Women’s Varsity Field Hockey team is tired of losing. Inspired by their town’s most famous ancestors—the young “affected” women of 1692, when the town was known as Salem Village—the Lady Falcons try to turn their fortunes around through ... witchcraft?

Don’t worry. The Crucible this is not. Instead, this book is a really fun read. It’s told in the exceedingly rare, but in this case very effective, first-person plural narrator, which draws you into the team’s collective stories. Because the tale is being told by a group of teenagers in 1989, it is full of snark and high hair and 80s pop culture references:
In the last year of the 80’s, Chi-Chi’s had just opened a restaurant on Route 114, in our eyes the Mexican fried ice cream a divine dessert conceived of on Mars. We were living in a world where up until Chi-Chi’s, Italian food was considered ethnic.

Even though there are eleven main characters (the team’s starters), the novel takes the time throughout to focus on each one’s backstory. A blur of names evolves into a collection of distinct characters, with their own problems and aspirations.

There were a couple of things I didn’t love about the book. It’s definitely YA, which is a choice, but one that foreclosed a lot of darker, possible plot options in a story about 17-year-olds dabbling in witchcraft. And although you know that the story is being told in the present while the narrators are thinking about their past, almost the entire story is told as if it were unfolding in the moment. That is, until the day of the final game, when we suddenly jump forward to the present for the rest of the novel, and we learn how their season ended as the team reminisces at a reunion of sorts. I understood why it was done, and learning how everyone turned out was a necessary part of the story, but it sapped a fair amount of the drama that had been building.

But those are minor quibbles. Wisely, the book never makes clear whether anything supernatural happens; everything, ultimately, has a plausible explanation. What’s important is that the players believe the pledge they made when they signed the Emilio Estevez notebook (again, I give you the 1980s). And by making a conscious decision to “following any urges” and “do bad things,” they slowly set themselves free of the constraints placed on young women about who they can be, or love, or what they can accomplish. It’s a tale of female empowerment and acceptance, told through comedy and 1980s nostalgia and—maybe—witchcraft. It’s not subtle, but it’s a blast to read. Highly recommended. 4.5 stars.
Profile Image for Lauren.
18 reviews14.3k followers
April 12, 2021
campy and weird and funny and interesting, was totally bought into the witchy vibes of Danvers until the last few chapters fizzled out. would still recommend though, the center of the "field hockey/Salem witches/high school" venn diagram was a fun place to be, especially as someone who has been on many an Intense Sports Team of her own.
Profile Image for Lily Herman.
543 reviews571 followers
June 11, 2020
Brb, still trying to rewire my mind after what I just read.

Quan Barry's We Ride Upon Sticks was one of the most original books I've read in a long time. The concept was fresh, and there was a lot of potential in the characters, storylines, and dialogue. Love me a book about young women who are a tad witchy and enjoy scaring those around them.

Where things got a little hinky was in the execution. Large portions of this book were strangely dense and exposition-filled to the point where I started skimming. There were so many secondary and tertiary characters popping in and out that it was too much to keep up with at times. Then the ending was a bit anti-climactic and abrupt considering how much build-up there was to those moments. This novel is somewhere around 2.5-3 stars for those reasons.

All of that said, I'm really intrigued by the ingenuity of Barry's ideas and writing, and I really want to check out some more of her work. And at the very least, reading We Ride Upon Sticks will make you want to start a coven with your friends. That's a plus for me, tbh.
Profile Image for Book Clubbed.
146 reviews166 followers
July 29, 2021
I suppose I should start with the standard Goodreads disclaimer: if you enjoyed this book, that's awesome, and I hope prospective readers won't be scared off by one bad review.

It is legitimately hard, as many of us know, to write a compelling novel. Hell, try to write a cohesive first chapter. It's very difficult! So, by that standard, every novel is an accomplishment in and of itself.

However, we don't come to Goodreads to hand out 5-star reviews and high fives. Well, some days we do. For me, personally, that is not today.

I thought this novel was...bad.

If this is a YA novel, it is brutally overwritten. It strikes me as an 80s nostalgia tour for Gen X, which is fine, but that does not overlap with a lot of the YA crowd (Ready Player One is perhaps an exception, but that had a galloping pace to it, along with a video game tie-in).

Overall, I found the pace lagging, the exposition bloated, and the writing oddly poor for a poet (porous like a broken window?????). Quirky details, 80s culture, and a half-hearted inclusion of the Salem Witch Trials can only do so much in papering over a poor plot and excess of characters.
Profile Image for Marchpane.
293 reviews2,128 followers
March 13, 2021
80s teen hockey-playing witches!

By this point, 1980s nostalgia and the supernatural is a classic combo. Stranger Things, My Best Friend’s Exorcism, to name two recent examples, and now We Ride Upon Sticks proving that there’s plenty of mileage in the idea yet. This novel is funny, warm-hearted, and entertaining. It’s peppered with pop culture references but doesn’t descend into ridiculousness à la Ready Player One.

In the beginning I found the Greek chorus-style of narration a bit of a sticking point, but eventually the individual characters came into focus. Each member of the Danvers High Falcons gets their own storyline, their individual reasons for wanting to invoke the power of the Dark Lord (besides glory on the hockey field, that’s a given). There’s stacks of teen drama—with a strong focus on marginalised identities—but also plenty of lighter moments to keep things from feeling too angsty. The witchcraft is low wattage: it’s left vague throughout as to whether the magic is real or merely the power of suggestion / a placebo effect.

I really enjoyed this book, but I also think it suffers from a case of More is Less. Imagine your favourite 80s teen comedy movie… but it runs for three and a half hours. That’s kind of what this feels like, with eleven Falcons (plus peripheral characters) taking turns at drawing attention. Some of them could have been pushed to the background to allow for a brisker pace more in line with the book’s snappy tone. And after such a long time blowing up this balloon, the book ends not with a bang, but a softly deflating hiss. Despite those minor flaws, there’s plenty to love about this fun, peppy witches’ brew.
Profile Image for Debby.
807 reviews9 followers
March 18, 2020
I should have bailed! I kept thinking it had to get better, based on the multitude of glowing reviews. No such luck. I'm only a few years older than the girls (and guy) on the team, so the '80s references weren't lost on me. There are a few snort-worthy funny moments in the book. Mostly, it was just a supreme drag. There isn't enough character or plot development to be satisfying. The end was a colossal rush to find out "where they are now."
Profile Image for Sara (sarawithoutanH).
481 reviews2,992 followers
January 30, 2021
FINALLY a weird book I can get behind!!!! I'm not even sure how to describe this book. It is so campy and fun. I loved the characters and the writing style. There was a lot of good commentary on things like race and sexism. I think If I had to describe its vibe I would say Netflix's GLOW (for the 80s nostalgia and humor) meets Scott Pilgrim vs. the World (for the camp and out there scenarios). I'd love to see an adaptation of this - I can just imagine the creativity they could have with the film editing. I never thought I'd enjoy a sports paranormal humor novel (not really sure how else to classify the genre lol).

Also, on a personal note, I am from NH and pretty familiar with Massachusetts so I loved all the references to small New England things (the Topsfield Fair, Demoulas, UNH, Danvers State Hospital, Salem, etc.) Ironically, I even had a close friend in high school who lived in Danvers and played field hockey.

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Profile Image for Mara.
1,559 reviews3,762 followers
May 11, 2022
What a singular reading experience! So voice driven, so quirky, so delightfully weird - I think this is one you should read a chapter or two and if you're not into it, probably just DNF it because... it is a very STRONG flavor that you're either going to like or not. I thought this was hilarious and touching, but it will not be for everyone
Profile Image for Kelly.
Author 5 books1,211 followers
April 6, 2020
A total and utter delight of a book that reminded me a lot of NOW AND THEN. The story follows a team of field hockey players in Danvers, Massachusetts, who believe they're imbued with the power of witchcraft as bestowed upon them by Emilio Estevez. Each of the main characters tells one of the chapters from a third person POV, and it all rounds back to the team revisiting one another on their hallowed ground 30 years later.

Inclusive, soaked in late-80s pop culture references, and downright hilarious at times, this is also a surprisingly thoughtful story of the power of being a teen girl, the ways our society has shifted in the last 30 years, and what it means to make your own type of power.

This has absolute crossover appeal for teen and YA readers.

Also, A++++ naming of two rabbits in this book: Marilyn Bunroe and Luke Skyhopper.
Profile Image for Chelsea (chelseadolling reads).
1,478 reviews19.3k followers
Shelved as 'did-not-finish'
September 21, 2022
DNF @ 54%: Planning for this to be just a putting-down-for-now situation! My library hold is about to expire on the audio of this and a few other books and I would rather prioritize getting to some of those for now instead. Will hopefully be back to this one soon!
January 10, 2021
3.5 stars

The 1989 Danvers Falcons field hockey team is on a winning streak thanks to the dark powers of Emilio Estevez and some super scrunched up bleach blond bangs!

The frustrated Lady Falcons were 2-8 last year and they want to end high school with a trip to State. One by one, the eleven members sign a pledge in an Emilio Estevez notebook to make it happen. When they begin to crush the competition, the Falcons find themselves in some dark situations to “re-charge” the power of Emilio and keep the winning streak alive.

Heavy on 80s pop culture nostalgia, this 360 page book has a sloooow start but I’m glad that I stuck with it. It took a while for the story to take off and also to get to know all eleven (!!!) main characters. I wasn’t sure at first about the narration by the entire team but it worked well as the story unfolds.  I love the teenage deal with the devil plot, snarky teen behavior disguised as witchcraft, and the Salem origin setting/Emilio fueling their powers.  What can I say? It's clever and my kind of dark humor!
There’s a lot of Heathers vibes in the past with a mix of Now and Then when the epilogue jumps ahead 30 years to fill us in on what became of the Lady Falcons after their trip to state in ’89.

This book isn’t going to be for everyone. The amount of characters to keep track of along with the long winded descriptions will be deal breakers for many readers. It took a while to get to the heart of the story but once I got there, I didn’t want it to end! A coming of age tale bursting with that teenage belief that anything can happen if you believe hard enough.

For more reviews, visit www.rootsandreads.wordpress.com
Profile Image for Frosty61 .
851 reviews23 followers
December 5, 2021
I just don't get some of the adjectives used to describe this book: haunting, fascinating, and deeply affecting. Really? I'm missing something because I found it overly wordy and longer than it needed to be. I got lost due to the plethora of details and sidetracks.

The premise of a 1980's high school girls field hockey team who tap into their 'dark powers' is unique and fun. The beginning is strong and grabbed me right away. Unfortunately after a good, strong start it went downhill. There's an abundance of references to 1980's culture and events - great- but it didn't add much to the story. There's a lot of humor and snark, which I enjoyed, with very clever descriptions throughout. However, the sheer number of characters weighs the story down. Focusing on just one of two of the girls would've helped me become more engaged. That plus a lack of action resulted in a less than 'fascinating' experience for me.
Profile Image for Jenny Lawson.
Author 9 books17.2k followers
August 20, 2020
Such a great book! I miss the characters as soon as it was done.
Profile Image for Samantha.
1,676 reviews82 followers
May 23, 2020
Easily one of the best books I’ve read thus far this year.

Quan Barry writes beautifully, hilariously, and wisely about the 1989 Danvers High field hockey team as they dabble in witchcraft on their way to competing for the Massachusetts state title (and to growing up).

Barry is one of many writers who perfectly captures the psyche of teenage girls, but she’s the first I’ve seen create such a wonderful, accurate portrayal of what it’s like to compete on a girls high school sports team.

I didn’t play field hockey (rather ran track and cross country), but Barry got all of it—from the politics to the mental joy and anguish to the camaraderie—exactly right. My team never attempted to dabble in witchcraft, but I’m sure we would have if we’d thought it might give us an edge. We were certainly just as cultish.

Like the lady Falcons, our entire identities were wrapped up in the collective of our team, both to ourselves and to others. It was both a frustrating, boxing-in burden, and perhaps the greatest sense of belonging I’ve ever felt.

We Ride Upon Sticks is gorgeously written and surprisingly atmospheric. At its heart it’s a coming of age tale that’s largely comedy. But while I laughed out loud over and over, I also cried a few times.

To create a work of fiction that is at once hilarious, moving, and relatable is no small feat. Barry has done that and more with this gem of a story.
Profile Image for Shelley Gibbs.
227 reviews8 followers
March 30, 2020
Like if The Breakfast Club and the Craft and Heathers had a charming book baby.
Profile Image for Jenny (Reading Envy).
3,876 reviews3,049 followers
December 27, 2020
"It was high school. A sea of adolescence streamed by, each of us in our own way trying to both fit in and stand out...so what if there was an open flame burning in her locker? It was nothing compares with the dark storms secretly and openly raging inside each and every one of us."

I was only in elementary school in the 1980s so I'm too young for actual nostalgia and too old for retro nostalgia. If you like girl power and 80s nostalgia, this is the book for you. The novel is about the 1989 Danvers high school field hockey team, and their best season ever thanks to ... witchcraft? It is campy and fun yet I wasn't the right reader for this book. It happens. I don't want to punish the book or author for it though. I would recommend it to a lot of different kinds of readers, actually, just not myself.
Profile Image for Claire.
822 reviews176 followers
January 7, 2021
Well that was just a fantastic romp. We Ride Upon Sticks has everything, field hockey, 1980s pop culture, teenage angst, a load of references to the Salem Witch Trials. and prayers to Emilio Estevez (devil or god? Who can say?) The real magic here is the skill with which Barry balances comedy and thoughtful examination of adolescence, and small town America in the 1980s. I thought this was a really excellent read on a range of levels, which made me think and laugh. Let’s go 2021- more reads like this please.
Profile Image for Bill Kupersmith.
Author 1 book196 followers
March 27, 2020
Most literature of sport I’ve read features bat and ball games - either cricket or baseball. Except for Enid Blyton, Field Hockey (ie, real hockey, not ice hockey) has been an orphan. This year happily for me (as we endure the cancellation of both FIH Pro Hockey and the Olympics) has given me the pleasure to read two novels set at the opposite extremes of the sport, the Olympic Games in Sydney and a high school in Danvers, Massachusetts. They were Fiona Campbell’s No Number Nine and now Quan Barry’s We Ride Upon Sticks. Barry is a poet, but the poetic diction of We Ride mostly consists of 1980s pop culture allusions, along with the famous 1690s Salem witch trials. The whole oeuvre feels like a melange of Teen-Aged Exorcist, Dare Me, and The Coven.

The Danvers High School Falcons were utterly pathetic, till in the summer at field hockey camp their goalkeeper discovers a talisman composed of tube sweat sock and creates a grimoire with a notebook featuring a picture of Emilio Estevez (the high-school wrestler in The Breakfast Club) on the cover. And they start winning matches, culminating with a trip to the State Championships, apparently assisted by an occult force they simply call Emilio. This book is rather more about teen girl culture than hockey, though the team features one boy player, a controversial practice apparently still allowed by Massachusetts interscholastic athletics. (They ought to abolish American football and substitute boys’ field hockey instead. It would do wonders for the USMNT.) Many of these girls come from hilariously dysfunctional families, especially Julie’s with her ex-priest and ex-sister parents and her utterly psychotic six year old foster brother. In order to keep their occult power active, the team regularly commit acts of anti-social vandalism, including burn copies of Huckleberry Finn and holding a car-wash that leaves customers with dirtier vehicles than before. I confess I tired of the girly-culture, especially the big hair, featuring Jen’s “claw” (which we’re supposed to think can talk till it finally succumbs to extreme lightening products).

Rules are a bit different from today. Then there was an offsides rule, and players were forbidden to lift sticks about shoulder height. Indeed the only attempt at an aerial Barry describes ends in disaster.

“Later Larry Gillis’ tape would show us the horrific details in slow motion. We had to admit it looked like an honest mistake. For a brief and shiny moment, #11 thought he’d gained control of the ball. In that instant, he reared back, like a golfer setting up a monster drive, and prepared to whack it downfield, his stick rising above his shoulder, which was technically illegal but hey, we all high sticked from time to time. The thing is Little Smitty wasn’t a quitter. When most people would have retreated, Little Smitty got low, then lower still, darting in for the ball and snatching it away at the last minute. Consequently the Red Unicorn ended up whiffing hard, the ball no longer where he thought it was, his stick sailing up and up until it eventually made contact with the next best thing in its path, that thing being Little Smitty’s face. Nowadays when girls play field hockey, they wear plexiglass goggles over their eyes. Some also wear half masks to protect their noses and more of the face. But masks are now and no masks was then.” I asked an experienced umpire to comment, and he said that Smitty was clearly guilty of unsafe play in getting “lower and lower still” and that the present requirement for masks in high-school hockey simply provides a false sense of security. You don’t see them in club play.

At the end, though, we jump ahead thirty years for a team reunion and find out the outcome of the state championship and the secret of the Emilio charm. No spoilers, though I’ll reveal that I was simultaneously disappointed and gratified. From the author’s afterword we gather that the story is based on her experience as a high-school player in the 1980s. She is now a professor at Wisconsin-Madison, which sadly does not play NCAA Field Hockey. If she wants to come down to Iowa City sometime this fall to watch the Hawkeyes play, I’d be glad to join her at Grant Field.
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623 reviews1,952 followers
January 14, 2021
— overall thoughts: DNF @40% —

This isn’t the book’s fault, I just think I’ve reached my tolerance for contemporaries for the next few weeks… or months, who knows. With that said, this book actually had supernatural elements to it, inspired by the Salem witch trials. I feel like if you enjoy those speculative fiction kind of stories, you'll probably enjoy this. Especially if you enjoy books that are centered around camaraderie and discussions on social constructs. And perhaps if you just like reading about girls getting together for hockey and friendships. I just accepted that I am in a more SFF mood.

This is essentially about a hockey team and I would say that they discovered the secret to winning... but it isn't exactly natural. It's weird and intriguing, I feel like I'd be in the mood for this in October. It's set in the 80s which WAS SO FUN! I think Quan Barry was able to bring the mood of that era into her writing style.

I love that the girls on the team were both diverse and distinct in their own ways. It honestly made me smile and appealed to my personal sense of humor so it wasn't a bad experience at all. Discussions on disparities between people of color in a white majority were present. The pacing was amazing because there was always something going on in the plot. This reminds me of Beartown but add weirdness to it (in a good way).

If Quan Barry ever comes out with a fantasy, I would be happy to try it out in the future because the idea for this novel was so intriguing. Again, it was the plot that I had a hard time getting into because I am naturally a Fantasy person at heart.

“Sometimes, good leaders follow.”

↣ For the part that I read, it was mainly light and not too heavy to read. It's just not the kind of story I'm currently looking for which is not the book's fault. I'd still recommend this if you enjoy speculative fiction weirdness with a group of female characters and friendships that you can root for.
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