Friday, 24 May 2013

Review: The Whole of My World, Nicole Hayes

The Whole of My World

Nicole Hayes

Random House Australia, 2013

[New release: June 3rd, 2013]

Desperate to escape her grieving father and harbouring her own terrible secret, Shelley disappears into the intoxicating world of AFL. Joining a motley crew of footy tragics and, best of all, making friends with one of the star players, Shelley finds somewhere to belong. Finally she's winning. So why don't her friends get it? Josh, who she's known all her life, but who she can barely look at anymore because of the memories of that fateful day. Tara, whose cold silences Shelley can't understand. Everyone thinks there's something more going on between Shelley and Mick. But there isn't, is there? When the whole of your world is football, sometimes life gets lost between goals.

The Whole of My World stands out as a somewhat different take on the theme of young adults dealing with loss and grief. Likewise, the main character, Shelley, is both recognisable as a certain kind of YA heroine - confused, withdrawn, wary of who she can trust - while managing to seem unique in her own way and retaining a strong presence in the book. Dealing with a new school, the loss of old friends, and both her own grief and that of her father, Shelley finds solace in her love of AFL and her local team.

Setting the novel against a backdrop of (Aussie rules) football was different, and I thought it worked really well. Shelley is passionate about her team, the Falcons, and as a fellow (English) football fan - and one who was similarly obsessed as a teenager - I could relate to her enthusiasm, the way a win or a loss could affect her whole mood and outlook, and the energy and emotion she channels into it. For Shelley, football is a kind of refuge.

And it's not difficult to blame her. Shelley and her dad are living in a strange, dull world after a family tragedy, and the two of them barely communicate. In fact, communication is particularly hard to come by in this book. Enveloped in grief, Shelley not only keeps her dad at arm's length, but everyone else, too: her best friend Josh, her old classmates, the people at her new school, even Tara, her new friend and footy ally. Tara is also struggling with her own problems (largely hidden from Shelley, so the reader is also clueless for quite a lot of the book), and is equally allergic to meaningful conversation. While she and Shelley appear to need each other, their relationship is quite hard to fathom at times - a lot of monosyllables and meaningful looks that the other one is left to interpret. The lack of communication was quite frustrating as a reader, but at the same time it did fit the situation, and it was easy to sense a kind of helplessness on Shelley's part, as she struggled to make sense of everything around her.

In the middle of all this, Shelley befriends the Falcons' new player, Mick Edwards. She sees a kind of kindred spirit in him, as a fellow newbie (Shelley has a new school, and is also new to the world of the training ground), and the two forge a friendship that was, again, difficult to fathom at times. Again, this seemed intentional. Everyone around them is convinced there's something going on, and Shelley is quite naive about the whole thing, whilst remaining protective of the friendship they have developed. The lines seemed blurry at times, and I did feel for Shelley as she tried to figure out what exactly (if anything) she was doing wrong.

There were a couple of bits that fell a bit flat for me, not least the token pretty mean girls at school, and the repeated use of "slut" as a insult against these girls, and the girls at the football club who are, it is implied, having sex with the married players. (That the married players weren't castigated at all was revealing, however, about the dodgy gender dynamics at play that these girls were dealing with.) At one point, Shelley seems surprised that one of the "lovely ladies" (her and Tara's name for the football fangirls, who go for the players rather than the play) is actually kind of nice and smart. Overall, though, I enjoyed The Whole of My World - the football background was obviously done with enthusiasm on the author's part, and these bits really came alive on the page, and as a teenage girl dealing with grief and guilt and a feeling of not knowing where she belongs, Shelley was an engaging protagonist - just a girl trying to find her feet.

Overall rating: 6.5/10

Book source: ebook ARC received via Netgalley.

This review counts towards my Australian Women Writers 2013 Challenge.

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