Arctic Thunder – Robert Feagan (2010, Dundurn Press)
I first heard about this book upon its publication in 2010, when members of the National Lacrosse League team Edmonton Rush helped out with a book signing given by author Robert Feagan. I’m a big fan of professional lacrosse and I was delighted that the sport was positioned front and centre in a children’s book. Now that I’ve finally had a chance to read Arctic Thunder, I’m even more pleased: it’s a well-rounded story that revolves around lacrosse and sportsmanship, but also addresses important subjects such as friendship and family, and the notions of home, place and tradition.
The story opens as fourteen year old Mike Watson is uprooted from his home in St. Albert, Alberta, by the transfer of his father, a member of the Royal Canadian Mounted Police, to Inuvik. Devastated by the loss of his friendships in St. Albert and the unbelievable truth that lacrosse is not played in the Northwest Territories, Mike struggles to find his place in his new home. It’s not easy, at first: in school, Mike is bullied by a pretty yet seriously tough girl named Gwen Thrasher, as well as Joseph Kiktorak, a towering, menacing boy with a massive chip on his shoulder. And, on top of that, he has to deal with the bitterly cold weather and the isolation of his community. Mike is furious with his parents for forcing him to leave behind everything that is familiar – until he gets to know some of his classmates and witnesses them training in the Arctic Sports. Realizing just how athletically gifted Mike’s new friends are, Mike’s father, a former lacrosse coach, is inspired to form a team…just in time for the Baggataway tournament to be held in Alberta. With the help of a couple of big names in professional lacrosse (I won’t spoil it by saying who) and the sheer determination and enthusiasum of Mike and his friends, the team Arctic Thunder sets off to prove themselves against their southern opponents. And, as his friendships deepen and he begins to feel like he truly belongs, Mike gains a serious appreciation for the beauty of his new home, and the traditions and customs of his Inuvik neighbours help him to see his own ancestry and place in the world in a vibrant new way. The development of Mike’s character and the detailing of his emotional ups and downs are skillfully drawn and entirely believable, but it is in the game action scenes where Feagan’s writing really shines. Box lacrosse is a thrilling game of extremely quick transitions, where contact is allowed and the goals come fast and furious – and Feagan deftly captures all of the intensity on the page. I’m a fan of the sport, sure, but it would be just as easy for a lacrosse newbie to feel the energy and excitement in Feagan’s work.