A Team of Their Own: How an International Sisterhood Made Olympic History is a feel-good sports book–okay, a feel-good hockey book to be more precise. But it’s also a story about a group of young women learning who they are and how they will be in the world. Seth Berkman’s new book recounts the journey of the 2018 Korean women’s hockey team. And if you didn’t follow it at the time (hi, me), it’s an engrossing tale. And if you don’t know much about hockey (hi, still me), it’s still a worthy read.
So here’s how it goes: the South Korean women’s hockey team had long been underfunded and under appreciated. Its team members had sacrificed a lot purely for their love of being on the ice. Come the Olympics. In order to qualify, the country’s hockey organization looks to add new players from Canada and the United States — the “imports.” Among the imports are adoptees and mixed race players. The women train and grow together for four years. Then two weeks before the opening ceremony of the Olympics, the South Korean women’s team is thrust into the world stage. North Korean players are being added and they will play as a Unified team. North Korean cheerleaders, hoards of international press, prominent political figures crowd their games.
That’s the plot. And the international implications and the truly amazing thing that these players pulled off is a great story, but it’s not what I like most about this book. What kept me turning the pages was the stories of the individual women on the team and the story of how the team became a family. Thrust onto the international geopolitical stage by political leaders, it was the team that made the “Peace Olympics” a reality and their camaraderie is inspiring. From So-jung, the team’s inimitable goalie and veteran player, to Marissa Brandt, an adoptee from Minnesota, we get to watch each of players, and even the coaches, grow, struggle, and persevere. We see the imports explore their heritage, we see the South Korean players finding their voice, we see players overcome their skepticism of each other. And Berkman has incorporated excerpts from scores of interviews, so we get to hear it from the players, their family, and friends. In the end, it’s about young Asian and Asian American women, and their spirit beams through.
So it’s a feel-good story, period.