Rating: A sheet of ice that's serviceable but could stand seeing a zamboni
Highlight of note: A classic Shakespearean-type twin-swap but with hockey!
Will you read more by these authors? I already own the next book in the series, so yeah.
I picked this up because I needed something light and cuddly after having a negative experience with Fan Girl triggering my anxiety disorder. (Or possibly some sort of PTSD-like response.) So I wasn't wanting something deep or complex. That's good, because this is neither deep nor complicated.
The basic principle is one the authors tell us is from Korean dramas but which I know from Shakespeare: once upon a time there were twins who looked exactly alike despite being different genders and people couldn't tell which was which and hijinks ensued.
At the start of the book, twins Alice and Alexander try out for a junior league hockey team, the Falcons. Alice is much better at hockey than her brother, so it's not surprising that she makes the team and he doesn't. But, whoa! The coach realizes "Al Bell" is a *gasp* girl and quickly insists he meant the other Bell, even though the league rules don't prohibit women. Al is rightful pissed, although she ignored this later in the story.
Before Xander gets a chance to meet the team at his first practice, he breaks his leg. So no hockey for Xander, who kinda sucks at it anyway. But in sweeps Alice! She'll save his career by playing as him this season!
Yes, it is as silly as it sounds. With help from a team medical volunteer who knows Xander from theater, Alice binds her boobies, pretends to be allergic to soap to excuse herself from showers, and goes around talking in a voice that the other narrator describes as ridiculous. So, yeah... Not really the most believable tale, but a fun one.
Al shares first person narration duties with Hayden. He's the star of the Falcons, and the brother of the captain of the local NHL franchise. Is he as good as his brother? Everyone wants to know, and as one might expect this pressure causes problems, mostly with his attitude. He missed the ending of the last season due to misconduct and finds himself in the penalty box as often as he finds himself scoring.
The pair learn to play together, then become friends. And eventually realize they love each other. I fully approve of stories where the couple prove themselves as friends first, so I mark that in this story's favor.
Unfortunately, for character complications, the authors relied on the shortcuts of past traumas. Hayden's parents died a few years ago and Al's dad abandoned the family when she and her twin were in preschool. All of their issues can really be traced back to these events.
Al has a lot of conflict with her mother, who I never fully understood. Both the mother and Xander are constantly accusing Al of being selfish, but she honestly doesn't seem any worse than they are and it somewhat annoyed me that she eventually decides she needs to do better but they show no signs of improvement. I would have expected to feel more sympathy for Al's mother because she seemed to want to be more connected to her kids than she was, but she was so stubbornly insistent that they connect on her terms that it was hard to really feel bad for her.
Hayden's brother was actually very well done, I thought. He seemed both real and smarter than anyone else in the book. I'm a little sad that the story wasn't about him hooking up with his wife.
Overall, this was a cute book that I don't regret reading, but there were two things that I think would have vastly improved it. They're the sort of thing that really makes me wish I was friends with the writers and had been able to give this as beta feedback. I'll talk about them after a cut since they're most certainly spoilers.
I was really hoping the coach had the sense to figure it out as soon as he saw her play, since he'd also seen her brother, but let the charade continue because she was good. He could have had a whole arc where he comes to accept that he should have let her join as a female from the get-go. There could have been a lovely scene where he admitted he knew she was a girl, but tells her that what's important is that she's a damned good hockey player. And maybe he said that when she told him. That happens after the book ends, so we'll never know. But what if the news that she was a she broke before the last game and he got to give a while speech to the boys about, "Don't be idiots. She's part of the team and you WILL respect her as such."
I would have also loved to see at least one of the teammates catch on. Maybe the playboy character, who could have called her on it but said he'd happily keep her secret if she kept on scoring. Or, hey, maybe he doesn't realize she's playing a con and just figures he's talking to a transboy. Perhaps he tells her about his cousin, because his cousin is trans and the family is having mixed reactions. Maybe then she could feel some complex emotions in regards to how for some people body dysmorphia is a real thing and she could wonder if she's lessening their experience with her playacting.
Also... Hayden thinks of Al as a friend up until he finds out she's a female and suddenly he's in love with her. How much better would the story have been if he'd spent a long time questioning if he's really as straight as he thinks he is and eventually decides that he loves Al, and if Al's a guy then that means he can love another guy? Why is it only romantic love when he realizes she has girly-bits? To me, that makes it seem both more shallow and more sudden than the gradually evolving affection Al developed for him.
So, I wanted Coach to figure out what was going on and I wanted Hayden to decide he loved Al regardless of Al's gender. And I wanted some acknowledgement that while Al isn't trans, there are people who are. I think that those things would have taken this book from acceptable fluff and made it something actively good.
Below you'll find the notes I took as I read. Clearly, they contain major spoilers.
12% Ok, I knew this book was going to be silly. But she bought hair extensions to avoid her mom knowing she cut her hair? Does the author have any idea how long hair extensions take to put in? This plan requires a wig. Yes, it would be an expensive wig, but that many extensions are also expensive.
15% Um... If Alice is telling people she's Al, what are they going that think when Xander comes back? I mean, technically he is Alexander, but he doesn't answer to Al.
16% "Do you know who I am?" "Yeah. You're someone who lost the puck." ROFL. This is going to be fun. I just hope Hayden doesn't get all homophobic when he starts listing after this upstart rookie.
17% Ha! Coach says it's better not to have a Captain at all than to name Hayden. That oughta be a wake-up call when Hayden stops being pissy. (For the record, I agree with the coach even though he's a sexist twit.) ... Except Hayden's not pissy. He's depressed. That's not as motivating.
21% Coach needs to put Hayden on a different line from Al if he isn't going to pass to her. ... Actually, now that I think about it, I don't understand how this team does lines. They don't really seem to have them.
22% I'm not sure why Al skating in the figure skating event is such a big deal. It doesn't sound like she's done any competing in figure skating, so who knows who she is? How's she rate the closing number? Chicago actually has a figure skating scene.
29% Xander has a secret he wouldn't want the league to know. My money's on him being gay.
33% Um... Al was supposed to go on a date with the cheating guy who's blackmailing her brother. Did she do that? Or did she make up an excuse not to go? Because no mention is made of this.
33% Hey! Hayden refered to Al being on his line! Lines do exist on this team!
61% Hayden is upset thinking Al is with Madison even though he still thinks Al's a dude. Does he just figure he should have been told before catching them together or has he admitted to himself he has feelings for Al and hasn't acted because the gay thing is new to him?
66% His hands are all in her hair and he doesn't notice the extensions? How drunk is he?
77% The reveal went about as well as one would expect.
Would have liked for Coach not to be too stupid to figure out what had happened. Would also have liked Hayden to do more examination of his sexuality. He didn't realize he loves Al until after finding out she was Alice. What if he'd realized it and faced a realization he might be bisexual?