Review of Breaking Out by Lise MacTague
I was reading the author’s bio before getting started on this novel and thinking, why have I never read her before? The third sentence of the bio is: “Previous to this, she has written space opera, steampunk, and paranormal urban fantasy”. Seriously? How did that happen? “Space opera, steampunk, and paranormal urban fantasy.” Sometimes I don’t get me. Anyway.
KJ is trying to get her life back on track, or maybe keep it on track, after years of taking care of her father, without much help from her brother. Hockey is what kept her going for all these years so when her best friend and defence partner leaves the team, KJ feels the loss hard. She’s not ready to welcome another partner. Adrienne hasn’t played in ten years but after a divorce, starting a new job in a new town and trying to do what’s best for her son, she needs something that makes her feel good, something just for her. Her first interaction with KJ could have gone a lot better, yet after they clear the air, they find themselves getting close a lot faster than either expected.
I fell in love with Adrienne from the beginning. I love that she won’t let anyone mess with her. I hate that she’s had to prove herself over and over, especially in the sport she loves, because she’s a Black woman, and a curvy one at that, in a mostly white sport. I love her dedication to her son. KJ took a little longer to love because when we first meet her, her first actions and reactions appear rather selfish. There’s a lot more to that under the surface though, and I loved watching Adrienne peel off the layers and seeing KJ show her true self as an earnest and caring woman.
The romance in this novel is on the slow-burn side. After the initial hiccup, KJ and Adrienne become good friends and great partners on the ice. The “something more” comes slowly, organically, as they grow more and more comfortable with having each other in their life. It’s all about hands brushings, friendly teasing, innocent flirting, until it’s not so innocent anymore. The chemistry is all the more fantastic as it takes the characters by surprise.
Author KD Williamson acted as a sensitivity reader on this book and I can’t thank Lise MacTague enough for not assuming she knew how to write a Black character. As a white reader myself, I have no firsthand knowledge as to how it feels to be a Black woman and the casual and not-so-casual racism Adrienne is confronted with in her daily life, and it felt great not to have to wonder whether her reactions rang true or not. Which means, too, that I could learn from Adrienne. KJ does too over the course of the story and I love how she never questions anything Adrienne says or asks as a Black woman and, also, as a mother, two situations that are brand new to her.
As I’ve written before, I don’t know much about hockey. Most of what I know comes from a YA book I translated ages ago and more recently K.R. Collins’ Sophie Fournier series. Collins’ way of writing hockey is so captivating, even for someone like me who doesn’t care about hockey, that I was worried I wouldn’t enjoy the hockey scenes in this novel as much. The good news is, they’re really good too, in a very different way. Collins’ books are about a young woman playing in a professional league where most of the other players are men. In Breaking Out, the women play hockey for fun. They’re competitive and everything but it’s not their whole life. Except for KJ at the beginning of the story, but only because it’s the only thing that makes sense in her life at that moment in time. The stakes are not the same. The motivations are not the same. They’re all valid, however, and it was a nice change of pace.
Lawrence, Adrienne’s nine-year-old son, is also a pretty interesting, albeit secondary, character. Writing kids isn’t easy but this one is plausibly adorable. And his relationship with Chester, KJ’s dog, is very sweet.
This review is getting way too long already, so I’ll stop here. This book is good, read it.