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Review: Set In The World Of Women's Hockey, "Becoming Phoebe" Is A Gripping, Thoughtful Read

A powerful first novel by J. Michael Neal

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J. Michael Neal

The women's college hockey circle is a pretty small one, and over the last several months I've enjoyed following the progress of friend of the blog and Minnesota women's hockey supporter J. Michael Neal as he worked on his first novel. Finally, after months of waiting, the novel has been published and is available for purchase, and I would imagine he's probably pretty excited about the accomplishment.

I didn't know much about the novel as it was being written. I knew it was set in the world of women's college hockey and centered around a character named Phoebe, but not much else. But as much as I love women's hockey, it didn't seem like quite the genre of novel I would seek out to read. So when Neal asked if he could send a review copy for me to read and maybe tweet out a few nice words, I was a little skeptical about how much I would enjoy a character driven novel written by a first time author.

With BC women's hockey playoffs in full swing, I figured the timing was right to give it a shot. And as it turned out, I'm so glad I had the opportunity to meet Phoebe.

Becoming Phoebe is an emotionally charged deep-dive into the life of a girl trying to move past "just surviving." Phoebe is an orphan who bounced from foster home to foster home as a child with families that ran the gamut from the most loving to the most abusive you can imagine. She has only hockey to keep herself together during her disjointed and at times traumatic childhood.

For a long time, hockey is a form of survival. But as the years go by, Phoebe's development both on the ice and off it become about much more than that. Somewhere along the way, as her relationships develop (both romantic and otherwise), she learns that it's okay to actually enjoy life -- and hockey -- and be more than just a survivor.

The more you learn about Phoebe, the deeper and more interesting she becomes. I can honestly say that I found myself turning the pages looking forward to learning more about her. She's a complex character, impressively developed, and you'd have never known it was a first novel if I hadn't told you.

It's the type of novel I never would have reached for on my own, and I'm really happy to have had the pleasure of diving into the world J. Michael Neal created to develop his Phoebe.

Becoming Phoebe is available for purchase in select bookstores in the Minneapolis area as well as on Amazon here.