The 1980s remain a nostalgic throwback from the thought of crazy hair styles, fashion choices and catchy music. Decades later, there remains a number of issues that teens, and especially women, face every day. Throw in a struggling field hockey team and little experimentation with magic and you have Quan Barry’s latest novel, “We Ride Upon Sticks”.
Inspiration for the book came from a number of places, from Quan Barry’s own life to a local legend. The novel is also a product of highlighting female athletes as part of a team in a medium where it is often absent.
“I was really interested in the idea of portraying and writing a book you don’t often see,” said Quan Barry. “Usually when you think about team sports in books or movies, it’s always boys team sports. Obviously, there was the movie ‘Bend it Like Beckham’ many years ago but there haven’t been any since. Usually when you see women portrayed in sports it’s in sports like ice skating or gymnastics or other individual types of sports. So, I was super interested if you took a bunch of girls in a team sport and what kinds of conflicts would arise from that.”
There are several locations in the book that may seem instantly recognizable if you have connections to the Boston area, from Danvers High School to local shops, that draw parallels to Quan Barry’s own time as a field hockey athlete and growing up on the North Shore.
“Ninety-nine percent of the places that are mentioned in the book are actual, factual places that existed, or still exist, starting in 1989,” mentioned Quan Barry. “So, for example, in the town of Danvers, I mention various restaurants where the field hockey team and I used to hang out like Supreme Roastbeef or Rocco’s Pizza. Those places still completely exist.”
“All of that stuff is real, like how I describe the playing fields were like, how I described how we used to carry out the goals every day for practice, the various aspects of what we did in practice. All of those are how we played the game back in the 1980s.”
Quan Barry, now a creative writing professor at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, also connects local history to the plot through referencing the Salem Witch Trials and the novel’s team captain, a descendant of Ann Putnam who was a key accuser during the Trials. Some three centuries ago, Danvers was a part of Salem, and was an intriguing part of the town’s antiquity Quan Barry always knew.
“In thinking about the book I was also interested in thinking about girls from 300 years ago that didn’t have that many options available to them,” explained Quan Barry. “It was basically expected for them to be mothers and wives and that would be their life. So I was interested in what would happen if you took those ‘same girls’ 300 years later in 1989, what kind of options are available to them, what kind of mischief will they get into, how will they begin to understand what power is and what their own power is and the ways they get to shape their lives.”
But while locations may be based off actual places, only one character is inspired off a real-life individual, legendary Danvers coach Barb Damon. Quan Barry was quick to reminisce about her former coach as someone that always wanted to pull the best out of every student-athlete. As she put it, Damon was hard in the best of ways.
“She was the most important coach we had or knew, and she was an amazing coach,” said Quan Barry. “She really was one of the reasons why there is so much stability in the Danvers program and why they have been so successful.”
Ultimately, Quan Barry hopes readers will not only enjoy themselves while following the field hockey team’s adventures, but also open conversations about sensitive topics that still exist from the 17th century and 1980s in the modern-day.
“The book is humorous, but hopefully gets people to think about what are often times difficult issues, to consider them and give them thought while also being entertained along the way,” said Quan Barry.”
“We Ride Upon Sticks” is now available at a book store near you. Readers can also check out an excerpt from the first chapter below.
Click Here for to Read an Excerpt