Shame, embarrassment, and fear often keep us from exposing our psychological baggage to the masses, and the main characters in Tom Earle’s newest middle-grade novel are especially keen to keep their traumas under wraps.
Twelve-year-old Jake Dumont may be an outstanding centre for the North York Penguins hockey team, but the physical and emotional abuse he endures at the hands of his father, combined with the limited support he gets from his fearful mother, force him to give up on his dream of a hockey career and run away from home. With limited funds at his disposal, Jake makes his way to downtown Toronto and takes shelter in the shuttered Maple Leaf Gardens.
But the vacant arena already has a resident, an older homeless man named Scooter. Over daily meals at a local soup kitchen, an occasional doughnut at Tim Hortons, and regular readings of the Toronto Star, Jake and Scooter share just enough about themselves to understand the complexity of each other’s situation. The two help each other live, rather than just survive, but the story does not offer a predictable outcome or promise a happy ending.
Earle’s experiences as a pro hockey player provide a detailed, sport-saturated background for Home Ice Advantage, but it’s the vulnerability of the hockey-loving characters that gives the story its rich layers. Jake and Scooter may seem to be all about hockey, but Earle deftly exposes their complexities, laying bare the duo’s apprehensions, desires, and sense of pride even as they find the means to prevail when everything is working against them.