In the small, footy-crazed Victorian town of Marshall, two boys play football and dream of one day playing professional football at the 'G(the MCG, Melbourne Cricket Ground for those of you outside Victoria). Noah is a Koori, Ben is white. They play for different teams, but become friends during their running sessions. And there's a scout coming to look for talent for the Bushrangers football club Development Squad. Will one of them - or both of them - make this first step towards their dream of playing at the 'G?
This is a lovely, gentle story about following your dream, football, friendship, first crush(on Millie, one of Noah's classmates). There is a bit of racism in the town, though mostly the baddies on the Kookaburras team for which Ben plays. It never reaches the proportions of, say, the racism in Deadly, Unna? (Phillip Gwynne). But when Ben asks Noah why he became so angry at a racist taunt in the course of a game, because he sees taunts as just a regular part of the game, Noah is able to explain.
"Okay, then. It's like this. You aren't a green Martian. But I am black. When someone says what he said, he's insulting my people and...and our families..and our culture. Trouble is, guys like Elliot think that if you're black, you're a piece of crap."
This is, in any case, a later era than Deadly, Unna? There are enough immigrant families in town that you can get Vietnamese food and Greek food and the Mayor stands up at a local event and acknowledges the traditional owners. Even Noah's father tells him racism isn't as great as when his mother, Noah's grandmother, was growing up.
The single-parent family is Ben's. But his father, who smokes and drinks and is just a bit racist, loves his two children and makes a sacrifice for his son's happiness. Noah lives with two loving parents and a brother who is terribly proud of him. It would be interesting to see what relationship the nasty Mark Elliot has with his family, but you never learn that. Actually, all the adults in this book apart from Mark Elliot's Dad, coach of the Kookaburras, are so nice! Everybody - Noah's Dad Paul, the teachers, Noah's coach, even Ben's Dad Joe.
There are a number of things that make me feel this is a novel for middle-grade rather than YA. The characters are in their teens, but they feel younger to me. Their issues and concerns are younger. The closest there is to a romantic interest, Millie(who plays very good netball and joins the boys in their morning run)doesn't play much of a role in the story except to cheer on the two heroes when they play. Noah likes her but is too shy to say anything. While there are teenage boys like that it's really the sort of thing that belongs to a younger age group. I'd recommend this novel to children who enjoyed Specky Magee(Felice Arena, Garry Lyon) rather than Deadly, Unna? And the language makes it very suitable for reluctant readers. It's not a long read and there are few difficult words.
It is such a very Australian book- the landscape, the characters, the passion for Australian football - but I don't think people outside Australia would have too much trouble with it. I don't even like football and I thoroughly enjoyed it!