Quan Barry’s “We Ride Upon Sticks” borrows from the author’s own biography. Like the characters in her novel, Barry grew up in Danvers and played field hockey for the high school team in the late 1980s. Nailing the details was important to her.
“Placewise, the book is 100 percent factual,” Barry said. As far as the field hockey team, she added, “We did actually make it to the state championship, we had a great run that year.” The book’s coach is based on the legendary coach Barry played under, and the girls rock out to the same obscure ’80s song the author remembers from her playing days. The novel diverges from reality, however, in how the young players motivated themselves: “We did not use witchcraft to get there.”
In “We Ride Upon Sticks,” Barry’s field hockey players experiment with magic, an echo of the area’s most famous historical event, the Salem Witch Trials. (Once known as Salem Village, Danvers renamed itself years later.) “I’m interested in witchcraft as a tool of empowerment,” Barry said. “It’s helping them find their voices and be who they want to be.”
One character is a direct descendant of an early Salem accuser; Barry said she wanted to investigate the idea of how much power a teenage girl could have. “What could a teen girl in 1692 accomplish? What might she look like 300 years later in the same community?”
Teen culture in the 1980s was often presented in movies that make us cringe today. “I was interested in rethinking the ’80s from this new lens,” Barry said. “There’s social criticism inherent in the book. I like to joke that I present it the way that you put spinach in a smoothie. Hopefully because the book is comedic, it doesn’t feel like you’re being preached to.”
Quan Barry will read at 7 p.m. March 9 at Porter Square Books, 7 p.m. March 11 at the Danvers Historical Society, and 7 p.m. March 12 at Belmont Books.
Kate Tuttle, a freelance writer and critic, can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.