It’s hard to imagine a more Canadian novel than a romance featuring a professional figure skater and hockey player, set in Winnipeg, Manitoba. Aurelia Osborne delivers a compelling portrait of Susanna Miles’s struggle to reclaim her life as well as her career in Thrills on Ice.
Susanna returns to Winnipeg at the urging of her controlling mother-manager after a potentially career-ending injury. She meets Lucas Crawford, a professional hockey player, as well as his sister, Ava, both of whom encourage her to get back to living her life and help her to rediscover the joy in her sport. Her mother refuses to accept their interference and continues to push Susanna to follow her dictates on everything from what she eats to what she drives to how much time she can spend on anything besides skating.
I must be honest and admit I found the strange print formatting of the book offputting at first. I quickly became involved in the story though and found a surprisingly well-crafted depiction of the challenges of being a professional athlete as well as the difficulty and insidiousness of trying to overcome emotional abuse and dependence. Susanna’s internal tug of war between her love of skating and her dislike of the realities of competing at the highest levels struck a chord. No athlete puts in the exhausting hours of practice without an inherent love of what they do, but dealing with sponsorships, endless gossip,media-fueled rivalries and the never-ending suspicion of wondering if people are more interested in them as individuals or as celebrities must sour even the most eager amateur. However, that side of the story paled in comparison the compassion Osborne used in crafting the struggle between Susanna and her mother. She shows how effective Susanna’s mother’s constant belittling is in isolating Susanna, even when she is determined to break free from her mother’s influence. Susanna’s path to freedom is realistic, full of many baby steps and backslides. Readers can take as much comfort from her stumbles as from her successes.
Thrills on Ice is a sweet romance, suitable for young adult readers as well as the young at heart. Osborne focuses on the emotional connection between Lucas and Susanna rather than the physical. Lucas’s sister, Ava, turns into a wonderful scene-stealer with her pushy but loving approach, refusing to let Susanna say no to her offer of friendship. Susanna’s childlike joy in discovering both friendship and love made me wish I could fall in love for the first time all over again. I enjoyed the lively debate as to which is the best winter-themed love song: “Let It Snow” or “Baby, It’s Cold Outside”. I also thought Osborne’s use of emails and news clippings to frame the story was a clever way to deliver the necessary backstory quickly.
There are some hints at a dark background between Lucas and his family but these aren’t explored as much as I might have liked. At its heart, this book is about Susanna’s climb out of darkness. Finding Lucas doesn’t cure all her problems but his love does give her support and confidence as she takes back control of her life.