“Come quick, the Pond has frozen over!” cried Cuddle, waving her friends over enthusiastically. The Pond’s inhabitants quickly scampered, slithered, and strode over to the area where Cuddle had set up two hockey nets on opposite ends and gathered sticks and a puck. They divided into two teams: Cuddle and Amina versus Xiaolong and Varian, with Gen as referee and scorekeeper. Tweet! The game began.
“This kinda reminds me of that scene in Frozen when Anna and Elsa are little kids. They’re skating around and Elsa makes Olaf. He likes warm hugs!” exclaimed Xiaolong, after the game had ended. They sat together in a circle at the side of the pond, sharing a plate of cookies and hot chocolate with marshmallows.
“You know,” said Cuddle, “there’s a book I read recently that’s got all the things we’ve done today. It’s about a boy named Eric Bittle who goes off to college and gets recruited to play on their hockey team. He even makes cookies and pies. It’s soft and lovely and reminds me of a warm hug!” Varian, Xiaolong, Gen, and Amina gather around her as she continues to tell them more…
Eric Bittle may be a former junior figure skating champion, vlogger extraordinaire, and very talented amateur pâtissier, but being a freshman on the Samwell University hockey team is a whole new challenge. It is nothing like co-ed club hockey back in Georgia! First of all? There’s checking (anything that hinders the player with possession of the puck, ranging from a stick check all the way to a physical sweep). And then, there is Jack―his very attractive but moody captain.
Check Please! Book 1: #Hockey by Ngozi Ukazu has been on my graphic novel TBR for awhile. I first heard about it when I was reading Fence by C.S. Pacat, which is another sports-centered graphic novel series featuring an M/M relationship, with a mostly male cast of characters.
I was delighted to see that Joe Johnson, an ice dancer on USA’s figure skating team and one of my favorite skaters, had blurbed it, calling it “adorable, and full of excellent messages about acceptance. Both Ngozi’s art style and storytelling ability are incredibly charming.” Joe has great taste in media – some of his favorites include Carly Rae Jepsen and Yuri on Ice – so I knew I could trust him here and I was excited to jump in.
Fun fact: Joe and his ice dance partner, Karina Manta, are the first partnership in which both athletes openly identify within the LGBTQIAP+ community, and I love them. Their free skate from this past season, especially the choreography sequence, to a cover of Eurhythmics’ Sweet Dreams, is my favorite. But I digress!
Following Eric Bittle, or Bitty’s, journey through his first years of college on the Samwell hockey team was a pure joy. The team consisted of “golden boy” Jack Zimmerman, goofy (and also smart!) Shitty, inseparable buddies Holster and Ransom, and more. Every chapter started with several panels of a vlog as Bitty took the readers through practices, hangouts with the team, and inner thoughts. After the main story, there was a section of deleted scenes and a compilation of Bitty’s tweets.
As the team grew together, I saw different types of relationships between the boys. There was an overarching sense of support, whether Bitty was making pies for the team, or they were rooting for Shitty as he applied to different graduate schools. However, in a younger year’s team, two boys were not getting along due to intersectional issues. One was White, had Samwell Republican merchandise, and came from a poorer background. The other was Black, from a wealthier background, and considered himself progressive. There was also a character introduced who had a rivalry with Jack as another star athlete. Finally, although the relationship was not developed fully (and we have to wait for the second installment), there is a M/M romantic relationship brewing.
Another aspect I look at when reviewing graphic novels is the art style and use of color. The boys are drawn in a manga-adjacent style, and each of them had a very individual look. The main colors used during games were blue, red, and white, and the main colors used in the house were brown and grey, which is realistic to the typical college and hockey rink experience. Who doesn’t remember the vast array of browns, greys, and beiges in dorm rooms?!
I loved small random tidbits in Check Please, including all the times Bitty baked pies for his teammates. These instances added lightheartedness and wholesomeness, demonstrating that boys and men can uplift and encourage each others’ talents that aren’t stereotypically masculine. There was also “locker room humor” employed, but in my opinion, it avoided typical derogatory remarks towards women and misogynistic quips.
One thing I wish had been different is the overall layout. The “extras” and Bitty’s tweets were included in two different sections after the main story; however, I think they would have been more effective and would have enriched the story more had they been included in real time as opposed to more of an addendum. Presenting the tweets as they happened would have been especially helpful because of the role of social media at the forefront of Check Please.
Conclusion: Highly recommended!
Along with Carly Rae Jepsen and Yuri on Ice, Check Please is yet another piece of media that has both my and Joe Johnson’s stamp of approval. This book really is like a warm hug, and just like Olaf, I like them. A lot.
Is this book for you?
Premise in a sentence: A former junior figure skating champion joins his college’s new hockey team and navigates college life.
Genre: young adult graphic novel, contemporary
Trigger/content warning: internalized homophobia, swearing, drinking, sports type violence (from Queer Books for Teens)