We Ride Upon Sticks is a journey into '80s nostalgia, but with witchcraft | Literary Arts | Pittsburgh | Pittsburgh City Paper

We Ride Upon Sticks is a journey into '80s nostalgia, but with witchcraft

click to enlarge We Ride Upon Sticks is a journey into '80s nostalgia, but with witchcraft
CP Photo: Jordan Snowden
How far would you go to win it all? For Massachusetts-based women's varsity field hockey team the Danvers in We Ride Upon Sticks by Quan Barry, they're happy to dabble in the dark arts in order to take home the 1989 Field Hockey State Championship.

The Danver Falcons team is made up of Mel Boucher, Sue Yoon, Julie Kaling, Heather Houston, Little Smitty, Becca Bjelica, Jen Fiorenza, AJ Johnson, Abby Putnam, and Girl and Boy Cory. I list each member of the team because all of them, all 11 players, are collectively the narrator. The perspective is one that I've never come across before.
We Ride Upon Sticks is told as a hive-mind narration, a uniform body. Barry uses the pronouns "we" and "us" instead of "I" or "she/he" or "they." Throughout the novel, she jumps from person to person, so you get to know each character as their own. You find out their background, their fears, their deepest darkest thoughts, and secrets.

Once the entire team signs their names in a spiral notebook bearing
actor Emilio Estevez on the front (the notebook is the source of their power), the team becomes even more in tune. And so does the reader, becoming a part of the group as you trudge along in their adventure.

With Emilio guiding them, the team causes disturbances around school and the town. What starts off as light high jinks  switching paint caps in the art room, unplugging the fridge in the teacher's lounge  escalates into criminal mischief, smashing a car, a false sexual assault allegation. The closer the Danvers get to the State Championships, the more destruction they need to feed Emilio and harness their power.

It's clear that Barry, the author of four books of poetry — We Ride Upon Sticks is her debut novel  — thoroughly researched the Salem Witch Trials and '80s pop culture before writing this book. The references are spot-on in sentences like "Smooth move, Ex-Lax," and information like how the town of Salem didn't start capitalizing on Halloween with a month-long "Haunted Happenings" festival until the '90s. Threading it all together is Barry's unintentional poetic-like writing rife with details that are so strong, I sometimes found myself cringing.

We Ride Upon Sticks by Quan Barry is a delectable novel soaked with witchcraft, '80s throwbacks, and teenage antics, that follows the Danvers on their quest to first place. 

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