No Girls Allowed, by Natalie Corbett Sampson, follows ten-year-old Tina Marie Forbes and her family as they fight for her right to play hockey. The Forbes family moves from Toronto to Yarmouth, Nova Scotia, and are excited to get settled in the town. Early on, Tina reflects, “all you need to do to make friends is play sports. Join a team and there’s a bunch of them ready to meet . . . That’s been true wherever we’ve lived.” Sport is an essential part of who Tina is, and forms the basis from which she builds community.
Though she initially worries her inexperience will impact her place on the team, both she and her father are surprised when the registrar tells them that there is not enough interest for a girls’ hockey team and that girls can’t play on the boys’ team. Before he realizes Tina wants to play, the man working for the hockey league says: “it’s eighteen dollars a boy, but we have a family discount,” and notes that, “Our peewee team is a great group of boys.” When he reads Tina’s form, however, the complimentary tone shifts: “His eyes move back and forth over the top of the page, then look up at Dad, and then back to the page. ‘This name, ‘Tina,’ is that a … girl?’” The hesitation around the word girl, paired with the boastful repetition of the word boy, signals to Tina, and to young readers, that this will be the root of her exclusion. This happens again and again. She reflects, “Boys keep teasing me, calling me boy names, saying stuff about wanting to be a boy or acting like a boy.”
Although vocalizing the experience of discrimination through a child’s perspective is tricky, Tina’s unfolding comprehension of her situation is effective. Using accessible language and subtle reflection, the novel sets up the central conflict in a way that will resonate with the desired readership. Tina repeatedly expresses bewilderment at the idea that because she wants to play hockey she must want to be a boy. During her testimony at the Human Rights Commission, she is asked if she wants to play with boys, specifically. She says: “‘It doesn’t matter. I just want to play hockey.’ Why is that so hard for everyone to believe?” Anyone who has experienced discrimination can remember the moment their difference became real to them, and Corbett Sampson shows the confusion and frustration that comes with this experience.Throughout the novel, gestures to shows, music, food, and clothing, paired with the dates that accompany each chapter title, are a bit distracting. The fidelity to the court transcripts in the final chapters has a similar effect, at times feeling at odds with Corbett Sampson’s accessible prose. Because the novel is inspired by a true story from 1977, these issues likely stem from a desire to do justice to the historical record.
Overall, this is a wonderful story of female empowerment and community building. Tina describes her brain filling up with “fire-hot rocks” and feels herself “threatening to erupt” by the end of the novel; but, with the support of her family, friends, Coach Jim, and members of her wider community, she continues her fight. While Tina’s motivation is certainly rooted in her desire to play hockey, she realizes that she can make a positive change for girls in sport. The novel shows the power of determined young women to bring about this change.
No Girls Allowed by Natalie Corbett Sampson
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