Val's Book Reviews

A West Coast Soccer Story

Head to Head
by Jennifer Manuel

Toronto: James Lorimer, 2020
$12.95 / 9781459414280In this young adult book for 10 to 13 year-olds, Jennifer Manuel has written a story which will inspire all young girls who love sports. But the book also carries a strong message of how team work is created and can thrive if players come together as a team.

Manuel’s characters display diversity in both ethnicity and leadership style and must struggle with dealing with someone they don’t normally get along with. The book illustrates healthy relationships and teamwork throughout.

Set in Victoria, all of the author’s characters are very convincing. Rosa is the captain of a girls’ soccer team. Emika and everyone else on the team think Rosa is the best captain and the only one who can possibly lead their team to victory, but suddenly the girls on the team have to face a dilemma. Rosa tells them that she and her family are moving and a new captain must be appointed to lead the team. Surprisingly she decides to appoint co-captains, Emika and Maram, two girls who have never got along.

Because of that, the team can easily foresee problems ahead as tensions will obviously develop between the two girls and the team will suffer as a result. This premise does indeed occur over the next few chapters of the book as many obstacles and differences of opinion soon arise.

But the story in Head to Head goes on to show all young sports enthusiasts that even the opposing viewpoints of two captains can bring strength to a team rather than turmoil—if handled correctly.

Jennifer Manuel

I like the fact that before she leaves, Rosa gives a present to both Emika and Maram. The gift is a book written by Abby Wambach, one-time captain of the US women’s soccer team.

“This book taught me to be a better captain,” Rosa tells Emika and adds . . . “At least gives it a try.” As a parting shot she says: “You’ll do great, you know. You and Maram . . . You’re both good at different things . . . you’re like peanut butter and chocolate. My favourite kind of candy bar.”

For all young soccer players who understand the technicalities of the game, this book will be a treat, especially when the team begins to lose traction and purpose and both Emika and Maram must learn an important lesson—a team is like a wolf pact and they all need to trust one another before they can find success.

Jennifer Manuel explains in her Acknowledgements why she decided to write this particular story. Like many other women’s soccer fans, she had held a grudge against Abby Wambach and her USA teammates following the controversial Canada-USA game in the 2012 London Olympics:

It wasn’t until after I read Wambach’s book, Wolfpack, that I came to respect Abby Wambach in a new and profound way. I now embrace the set of Wolfpack rules as the key to confidence, leadership and belonging.

Jennifer Manuel is an award-winning writer, as well as a teacher and youth basketball coach. She is also the author of Dressed to Play, part of the Lorimer Sports Stories series which encourages young readers to “Get in the Game.” She lives in Duncan in the Cowichan Valley on Vancouver Island..

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