Book Review: “Check, Please Book 1” by Ngozi Ukazu

A cute, cartoony, coming-of-age saga, “Check, Please” features Eric “Bitty” Bittle, a short, former figure skater who heads up to Massachusetts to play hockey at fictional Samwell University. Bitty’s good on the ice, but he didn’t grow up playing hockey, so he faints when faced with the contact that’s inherent to the sport. This leads to some early conflict with the team and its brooding captain, Jack Zimmerman. But it also offers an opportunity for growth, especially once Jack shows his kind side by taking the freshman player under his wing.

Bitty is gay and excited to express himself after growing up in a conservative southern town, where his father (who pointedly doesn’t make an appearance) was the tough high-school football coach. He eventually comes out to his teammates, who are supportive and welcoming.

Indeed, creator Ngozi Ukazu does an excellent job capturing the camaraderie of the squad. From practices to games to blow-out keggers at their hockey “haus,” the team is lively and fun. It’s easy to distinguish the characters, even if most of them have the good-natured “loving life” vibe that Bitty puts off.

Indeed, if I have a critique of the book, it would be that that it’s almost too pleasant. There’s conflict here and there, and Jack’s competitiveness and wounded backstory provide a nice contrast to Bitty’s constant cheer. But it can verge into cutesy in the same way that Scott Pilgrim or Ryan North’s “Squirrel Girl” series can. These are all books that I enjoy, but they presume a level of good will and “everything will work out if we just talk to one another” attitude that verges on utopian to my tastes.

Still, the cast for “Check, Please” is awfully cute, and Ukazu does a great job with the writing and the illustrations. Her characters are distinct, dynamic and capable of delivering a full range of emotions with just their faces and gestures. If you like cheerful coming-of-age stories, this a great comic to check out.