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A child's Lonely End of the Rink

CBC Host Grant Lawrence explores hockey, coming of age and the bully in all of us

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Whistler hosts the 2014 Readers and Writers Festival from Oct. 17 to 19. Pique is running reviews of books by attending authors to celebrate. For information and tickets www.whistlerwritersfestival.com.

You would think that a Canadian boy, raised by avid hockey fans and who spent a plane ride being bounced on Bobby Orr's lap, would love the sport. Not the case for Grant Lawrence in his book The Lonely End of the Rink.

In this part memoir, part hockey history, Lawrence candidly and humorously leads us through the first period of his life, when he joins the "nerd herd" at school, wears thick glasses and leg braces, and is bullied mercilessly by bigger, more athletic boys. During his equally awkward adolescent period, he finds his "tribe" as a musician, but still does battle with jocks and skinheads. In the third and final period, he earns a job at CBC, becomes the goalie of an artists' beer league hockey team and comes to terms with Canada's favourite sport where "bullies win on its biggest stage."

Lawrence's struggle to belong, to feel confident and to confront the bullies in his life is couched in the ups and downs of the history of the Vancouver Canucks; their nail-biting run for the Stanley Cup in 1982, the embarrassing riots of 1994 and 2011. Initially, Lawrence chooses music as an alternative to hockey to avoid bullying. But hockey lore is woven through his story, just as it is woven through our cultural identity.

Lawrence questions the value of a sport that showcases bullies but at the same time he is drawn to the game. It is not clear why. Do Canadians follow hockey out of habit? Because they feel pressure to conform? Because they love the violence? It would be interesting to a larger audience to delve into these questions. My father, once a diehard Hockey Night In Canada fan, cannot stomach the violence in today's hockey. My sister, who tried out for the Olympic hockey team, wonders if her eight-year-old runs too much of a risk of a head injury by playing hockey. Team sports, such as hockey, offer camaraderie, the opportunity to contribute and a feeling of belonging. This is their true value.

As painful as it is to witness the physical and emotional abuse Lawrence receives from his peers in school, the reader cheers when he does not give up on himself. His struggles help to define who he is. Lawrence is not alone. Jian Ghomeshi presents a similar coming of age story in his memoir, 1982.

During the final period of his story, as an adult, Lawrence faces his teenage nemesis on the ice and exacts sweet revenge, staying "within the code," maintaining his integrity and sense of honour. This is where Lawrence shines for he explores his own vulnerability. He acknowledges his own potential for misdirected anger.

The tales of Canadian music and humorous hockey anecdotes add breadth and colour to this story, but The Lonely End Of The Rink is less about hockey and music as it is about fitting in and being accepted for who one is.

As part of the 2014 Whistler Writers Festival, Grant Lawrence appears at the opening night literary caberet on Friday, Oct. 17, and at the comedy writers lunch on Saturday, Oct. 18. Susan Oakey-Baker is a writer living in Whistler. Her latest book, Finding Jim, was published by Rocky Mountain Books in October 2013. See her website: susanoakeybaker.com.

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