Our November pick for Ballerina Book Club, hosted by American Ballet Theatre principal dancer Isabella Boylston, is Quan Barry’s “We Ride Upon Sticks.” The book is the latest from the novelist and poet, who made her fiction debut with “She Weeps Each Time You’re Born” in 2016.
What can you expect? A dose of witchcraft and a hefty serving of wit, spirit, field hockey and 1980s pop culture.
Our story takes shape in the town of Danvers, Mass., the site of the 1692 witch trials (this is important to remember). When we meet the book’s protagonists — the local girls’ field hockey team — we find them hellbent on eschewing their losing streak.
After opening on a devasting defeat, the team’s goalie Mel Boucher draws up a pledge in the pages of a spiral notebook bearing Emilio Estevez on its cover. The conceit appears to work, and as the team members sign their names to the notebook, the underdogs become the champs.
All is well until the all-star game, after which “the higher power that [the team] called ‘Emilio’ began to kick into gear.”
The reading schedule and discussion questions to ponder are below. If you have your own questions or thoughts about the reading, send them to us here.
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Nov. 6: We’ll start off by reading “Danvers vs. Masconomet” through “Danvers vs. Lynn Classical”
Nov. 12: Reading assignment: “Danvers vs. Marblehead” through “Danvers vs. Winthrop”
Nov. 20: Reading assignment: “Danvers vs. Lexington” through the end!
- What do you know about field hockey? Do you think you need to be familiar with a subject in order to enjoy a novel centering the topic?
- Structurally, our story is told from a “we” point of view. How does this way of writing fit into the book’s larger themes of unity or team?
- In the book’s opening chapter, lingering ties to the town’s witch trial roots begin to show up in foreshadowing moments. Early on, while the teammates are contemplating how this is their year, a passage hints at larger forces:
“Maybe if one of us had given it a little more thought, things wouldn’t’ have gone down the way they did. Ancient urges which should’ve been snuffed out long ago wouldn’t have been unleashed. But sometimes objects in a mirror are closer than they appear. When you don’t speak up, you get what you get.”
What do you make of this assertion?
- The chapters are filled with small lies. Jen calls her mom her “aunt” despite the teammates knowing the truth, for example. How does lying fit into friendship? What room does closeness allow in terms of letting someone fib without retribution?
- Jen’s bangs are styled and sprayed so that they stand upright on her forehead. The teased tresses take on a certain autonomy from the beginning, as if “The Claw” is actually another character. What do you make of this and how do you think it will factor in as the story progresses?
- What role does religion play in the book? Does the Emelio notebook stand in as an alternative higher power? How does this change?
- Increasingly, the teammates begin to feel like they are stitched together not only by the signatures scrawled in the pages of the notebook but in the way they physically feel in moments that affect the group as a whole. How does Barry show this and what is unique to the team’s bonded feelings vs. regular friendships?
- Abby Putnam, a descendent of Salem witch trial witness Ann Putnam, is the last to commit her name to the notebook. What do you make of this? How do you think this will come into play later on?
- When Abby finally signs her name into the book, the night becomes perfectly still and a cloud stalls in front of the moon. A few moments later, Abby notices a red dot on the lunar surface, which is quickly identified as an eclipse. What does this mean?
- How does 80s culture inform the book — both its references to pop culture and current events?
- Consider the quote about the grueling days of training:
“We pushed through the pain because pain was the only meal on the menu, and we were having what everyone else who’d come before us and would come after us was having, namely a shit sandwich large enough to feed thousands, a shit sandwich otherwise known as team sports in America.”
What’s the culture of sports in America? How does this idea fit in?
- What role does the idea of the “It Girl” play in setting up the characters? What about envy?
- What dangers rest in not speaking up when you feel like something is wrong? How does this start to play out in the characters, especially Girl Cory and “Philip”?
- How do the characters deal with race? What does it mean to be an “other” in Danvers?
- How does gender affect the characters?
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