The Bookworm Sez: Checked or ‘chewed’? Hard to say

“Checked” by Cynthia Kadohata, illustrations by Maurizio Zorat c.2018, Atheneum Books for Young Readers $16.99 / $22.99 Canada 404 pages

What’s the best way to spend your allowance?

Candy or a juicy burger could sound good about now. You might prefer buying a video game, a popular app, or even a new pair of kicks for yourself. Or maybe you’re a savings-account kind of kid, which truly describes Conor MacRae – although, in the new book “Checked” by Cynthia Kadohata, he’s into saving something more important.

“Checked” by Cynthia Kadohata, illustrations by Maurizio Zorat
c.2018, Atheneum Books for Young Readers
$16.99 / $22.99 Canada
404 pages

All Conor MacRae ever wanted to do was to play hockey.

He officially started skating when he was six-and-a-half, but he knew before then that he wanted to be like his dad, who was in the NHL for three weeks and the AHL for four years. That was a “million miles” ago, though; long before Dad quit hockey and became a cop, years before Conor’s mom died. Still, Conor’s dad understands what it means to Conor to play, and he sacrifices to make it happen.

Conor worries about that. He knows the reason Jenny, Conor’s step-mom, divorced Conor’s dad: hockey took up too much time and money. New skates are $500, a stick is $250. There are travel expenses, lesson fees, tons of extras; just skate-sharpening has a price. Even without Jenny or the cost of tuition for her college classes, money is really, really tight in the MacRae household.

Nonetheless, all Conor wants to do is play hockey.

And hang out with his Doberman, Sinbad.

Because Conor’s dad does shiftwork a lot, he’d gotten Sinbad for Conor for protection, and they’re as close as dog and boy could be. Sometimes, Conor feels as though he can mind-meld with his ninety-pound sleek black pup, which sounds kind of weird but it makes Conor feel safer. Sinbad goes everywhere possible with Conor and his dad. Hockey might be Conor’s soul, but Sinbad is his heart.

And so, it was especially frightening when Conor – who’d taken over complete care of his dog, including financially – noticed that Sinbad’s leg was swollen. He was terrified to hear the veterinarian’s diagnosis of cancer, although the disease is treatable.

But it wasn’t going to be cheap. Seven thousand dollars – the cost of Sinbad’s chemo – would buy a lot of hockey sticks. With his talents and his reputation growing, will twelve-year-old Conor have to choose?

So is “Checked” a hockey book with a dog…. or a dog book with hockey?

That’s going to depend on the interest of the reader.

On one side, author Cynthia Kadohata unabashedly includes explanations, exercises, terms, and hockey plays in her story, which won’t mean nearly as much to non-fans as it will to kids who suit up. Indeed, this book is double-deep on the details, which lends an authentic tone but doesn’t go far at all in explanation.

On the other side, this story wouldn’t be anything without Conor’s love for his dog. It’s powerful, and it drives much of the tale, including the character development, in the end.

And so, hockey book or dog story? You decide. Either way, for your twelve-to-fifteen-year-old “Checked” is a good way to spend some time.

Terri Schlichenmeyer