Awards: Branford Boase (2004); German Youth Literature Award (2007).
I bought this book because I had recently heard Mal Peet and his wife, Elspeth Graham, interviewed on Saturday Mornings with Kim Hill, NZ National Radio: http://www.radionz.co.nz/audio/player/2558762
I remembered having read Tamar, his Carnegie Award winning book, and loving it. I also have a young man in one of my English classes who is football/soccer mad. He has finished reading the ‘Goal!’ series and I was looking for something that might capture his imagination (and have more to follow). And the reality is that a lot of books that are specifically written for kids who love sports but don’t love reading, are of a pretty poor quality – which is frustrating. I believe that to get children to love reading, they need to be exposed to quality writing. Just like you can’t expect to get a beautiful sound out of a poor quality instrument, why would someone who only gets to read pedestrian writing learn to love reading!
This book certainly didn’t start out the way I had expected. Faustino is a sports journalist interviewing El Gato, goalkeeper of the winning World Cup team. This is to be a front page story, and Faustino knows exactly how he wants it to go. He wants the story of El Gato’s journey from poverty to fame and fortune. The only trouble is, El Gato doesn’t seem to want to play the game Faustino’s way. He starts telling the story of how he came to be the one of a kind goal keeper, with seemingly superhuman powers, that he is, and it’s a story that’s hard to swallow. It seems that this mythical goal keeper might not quite have a secure grip on reality.
I shared Faustino’s concern, initially. I was completely taken by surprise. I was sceptical. I was anxious. Faustino was worried about the sanity of his football hero. I was worried about the credibility of this author. Like Faustino, I decided to play along with the story – to hear El Gato out. Certainly I was enjoying the language. Mal Peet writes evocatively – he draws you right into a story:
Standing there, with its back to the trees, was a goal. A soccer goal. Two uprights and a crossbar. With a net. A net fixed up like the old-fashioned ones, pulled back and tied to two poles behind the goal. My brain stood still in my head. (Don’t you just love that image? My brain stood still in my head…Wow!) I could hear the thumping of my blood. I must have looked like an idiot, my eyes mad and staring, my mouth hanging open. Eventually I found the nerve to take a few steps toward this goal, this quite impossible goal. The woodwork was a silvery grey, and the grain of the wood was open and rough. Weathered, like the timber of old boats left for years on the beach. It shone slightly. The net had the same colour, like cobwebs, and thin green plant tendrils grew up the two poles that supported it.
It seemed to take an age, my whole life, to walk into that goalmouth. When I got there, I put out my hands and held the net. It was sound and strong, despite its great age. I was completely baffled and stood there, my fingers in the mesh of the net and my back to the clearing, trying, and failing, to make sense of all this.
Peet says that he has long since got tired of categorising by age or genre. And this is apparent in ‘Keeper’. There is enough about football in this book for any avid football fan to love. But I don’t love football – at all. And I really loved this book. I highly recommend it. Somehow, the weirdness works and becomes fantastically believable…Read Jan Mark’s review at the following link: