Check, Please Book 1: #HOCKEY, by Ngozi Ukazu, 209pp, RL: TEEN
This Review Originally Appeared in December of 2018
Book 1: #Hockey
by Ngozi Ukazu
Review Copy from First Second
I'm not sure what's more entertaining - the story of how Ngozi Ukazu came to write Check, Please or Check, Please itself. During her senior year at Yale, Ukazu, hoping to create some, "Very Serious Art™," she ended up writing the screenplay Hardy, about a hockey player who, "tragically falls for his best friend - a dude." In her foreword, Ukazu, who has a masters in Sequential Art from the prestigious Savannah College of Art and Design, goes on to say that, being a "Texan, a woman, and a first generation Nigerian, I knew that writing about a white, Boston-born hockey bro would require weeks of anthropological study." Immersing herself in the world of college hockey had the "unintended side effect" of Ukazu becoming obsessed with hockey.
Enter Eric Bittle. A former junior figure skating champion, coed hockey playing, pie baking vlogger from Georgia, Eric is starting his freshman year at Samwell University in Massachusetts. And he is also starting on the hockey team. Told in vignettes, or episodes, some of which are Eric's (nicknamed Bitty by his teammates) vlog entries, stories of friendship, fitting in and facing fears play out over the course of the season and the academic year.
Bitty is baking pies and letting his teammates know he is gay while also coping with his almost paralyzingly fear of being checked in a game. While he doesn't swear or drink the way his older teammates, who live in the hockey "Haus," do, Bitty is definitely, immediately part of the team. Then there is Jack Zimmerman. Son of a NHL legend, captain of the team and determined to break Bitty of his fear of being checked. Jack is standoffish and moody and somewhat mysterious, but, it soon becomes clear that he and Bitty are great together on the ice. In fact, Jack is stunned when the coaches tell him that he's a better player when he's with Bitty.
Check, Please! covers freshman and sophomore year of Bitty's life at Samwell. From playoffs to graduations to getting "dibs" from a departing teammate on a room in the Haus, where Bitty names the ancient oven Betty and brings some flair to the kitchen, Ukazu packs her story with "bro talk" and hockey talk and makes it completely engaging and satisfying. I totally get why Check, Please!, which began with a strong presence on Tumblr and Twitter, has such a huge fan base. As a fifty year old woman who has zero interest in all team sports, I honestly did not think I would enjoy this story so much. It's a testament to Ukazu's gift for creating interesting characters and a completely charming hero in Bitty that the appeal of her book can reach so many.