Despite the cutesy title, MICHIGAN VS. THE BOYS is no fluffy, feel good story about girl power and sports like She's All That and Bend It Like Beckham. This is a very dark story about sexism and hazing and ummm, can we talk about why NOBODY is reading this gem? I am honestly shaken by how good this was, and how deeply it made me feel all the things.
**Spoilers because content warnings.**
Michigan is an excellent hockey player on her school's team. But due to budget cuts, the school has decided to axe two sports team: girls' hockey and boys' swimming. Several of Michigan's ex-teammates are able to find other options, either at far away rinks, in another sport, or at a private academy, but none of those are options for Michigan, who ends up thinking of another option when a girl joins her younger brother's junior hockey team:
She'll try out for the boys'.
Her skill and speed have her place, despite the coach's misgivings, and after giving her-- and the boys-- an incredibly sexist and humiliating set of rules regarding her placement, she's allowed to join. Some of the boys seem okay with her being there, especially this one named Avery and some of the younger players, but three of the tenured players have it out for her and do all kinds of things to force her to quit. It starts with mean comments and excluding her from team bonding activities, but slowly graduates to beatings, destruction of private property, sexual harassment, and then, even assault.
My heart went out to Michigan-- and, honestly, to any other girl out there who's tried to do something that she loves only to find roadblocks being thrown up at every turn. The way the coach treated her was disgusting and enabling, and I DESPISED the male hockey players. What keeps this from being a totally miserable read is the display of girl power I was hoping for: the unconditional support of her friends, a very kick-butt lady police officer, and a principal who does his darn job.
MICHIGAN VS. THE BOYS is not an easy read but it is an important one. And it's hard not to read this book and love Michigan because of her authentic-sounding teen voice and her passion for hockey. I don't even like sports but through her eyes, I was able to see why she loved it as much as she did, to the extent that she was willing to endure so much abuse to include it in her life. People shouldn't have to choose between what they love and their personal safety, but for some that is a privilege that they are unfairly, unreasonably denied.
I would encourage anyone who loves deep, gritty YA grounded in real world issues and strong female characters to pick up this book.
Thanks to the publisher for sending me a copy in exchange for an honest review!
4 to 4.5 out of 5 stars