I love K.R. Collins’ Sophie Fournier series as much as it sometimes frustrates me. I don’t care at all about ice hockey IRL yet the way Collins writes it, I’m captivated every time. There’s a lot about Sophie I don’t understand, which is what I both love and get frustrated with. So when I saw this novella, set in the same universe but focused on another player, Gabrielle Gagnon, I didn’t hesitate. And I have a feeling getting to know Gabrielle will help me understand Sophie somewhat better.
Before she chose hockey, Gabrielle was a figure skater and a ballerina. She has goals but, unlike Sophie Fournier, she also has other interests, outside of hockey. Also unlike Sophie, who cultivates her neutral looks, Gabrielle is a girl girl. A girl who likes wearing dresses and makeup and heels, not for others but for herself. Who likes things to be a certain way. Who likes order and rules in all things, from baking to dating. Who, from the youngest age, doesn’t like hugs.
As the narrative progresses, the parallels with ballet and figure skating go deeper than the healthy lifestyle they taught her. The pain, the determination, the will to try and try and try again until a move is perfected, they all fit Gabrielle entirely, in every area of her life.
Each chapter of this novella centres on the fall of a different year. In non-chronological order, the reader gets to share firsts with Gabrielle: her first Thanksgiving with a team instead of her family, when she first learns to bake with her dad, her debut as the Québec goalie, the first time she realises she’d be good at hockey, the first time she has a real friend.
Concurrently, we also get to see Sophie’s journey as the first woman in the NAHL through Gabrielle’s eyes, first as a girl a year younger than Sophie, then as a player following in her steps, albeit in a completely different way, as goaltenders have their own challenges.
K.R. Collins writes fascinating characters. The hockey prism allows her to spend time in their head, giving her the opportunity to really outline their personality, even in a shorter book like this one. I’ve wondered, over the books, whether Sophie is asexual or if her disinterest in others beyond friendship stems from her young age or her unerring focus on her sports. Now that I’ve spent time with Gabrielle, who is very comfortable with her own asexuality, the differences between them shine again. And make me even more impatient for a fourth Sophie book. Let me tell you, that gal is a mystery, and I’m really enjoying getting to know her, even when it means I was wrong about her.