Anna’s Book Nook: ‘We Ride Upon Sticks’ by Quan Barry


Photo illustration by Anna Keneally

Senior Anna Keneally flies across the field to goal with supernatural speed.

Field field field… hockey, hockey, hockey! As a fan of the sport myself, We Ride Upon Sticks by Quan Barry truly feels like a love letter, not just to field hockey but also to high school sports generally. The novel follows the 1989 varsity girls of Danvers High School in Danvers, Massachusetts (the location of the first witch trial) coming off of a losing season. The team decides that they will get to the state championship by any means necessary. Naturally, they turn to dark magic. Reading this book  reminded me of the reasons I play high school sports: yes, of course, the sport, but also for the family I have established on my team.

Barry does a masterful job of balancing out 11 main characters in a way that doesn’t make the story too cluttered. I will say, there was a learning curve in the beginning while trying to get all the names down, but as the book progressed, I felt connected to each character. The book opens at a summer prep camp that the team plays in together where goalie Mel Boucher decides that enough is enough. Senior year is theirs for the taking and if the team wants to win states, they have to be willing to supplement their work with an “outside source”. The girls pledge their souls to the forces of eternal darkness by signing their names in a spiral notebook with Emilio Estevez’s face on the cover and seal the deal by tying a piece of a blue gym sock around their bicep. Normal team bonding. From there, the team’s luck miraculously changes and the girls are promising contenders for state champions. By doing bad things, the girls continue to recharge Emilio’s power and keep their winning streak going. 

The one thing that stood out the most about this compelling story was how real it felt to me. The group of girls united by nothing other than field hockey, a group that never would have formed otherwise. Fighting for each other despite not always understanding each other is a unique high school experience. High school is hard, but being on a team makes it easier. Thinking back, I realize that the whole point of the story is just that. Field hockey is a vehicle in this case for the girls to grow into themselves. They did not even realize that and instead they believed that Emilio was the only way to grow. Dark magic or not, Emilio was a manifestation of what it means to be on a team. 

The book is intimate in the sense that we are experiencing high school with the team along with their personal battles that are left off of the turf, whether that be AJ and her experience as one of the only Black students in the school, Boy Cory’s struggle with identity, or Julie and her religious dilemma. Every member of the team has something going on at home and to them, Emilio is a source of confidence for their personal journeys. Whether or not the Danvers High School field hockey team is actually a witch coven remains to be seen, much like the women of Danvers over 100 years ago. 

When I bought my first field hockey stick on that fateful day during the summer of seventh grade, I had no idea the impact the sport would have on me. I had no idea that We Ride Upon Sticks, a quirky ‘80s field hockey witch book, would make me emotional. I had no idea that I would be best friends with my teammates. I had no idea that I would love the sport so much that I would continue playing it after graduation. Barry’s story is such a gift because I feel validated for loving something as trivial as a sport. Because it really is not just a sport, it is a coven of people “magically” bound by summer heat, shin guard tans, bruises and friendship.