Budi has a dream: to play for Real Madrid. Every day after work, he is out on the street kicking a ball, stone or bottle around with his friends. He knows that one day he will get the opportunity to go the watch his heroes play, and possibly play alongside them.
Unfortunately the reality of Budi’s life is very different. He lives in Jakarta in a cramped dwelling with his extended family. He works in a sweat shop producing football boots for a company of ‘white men’. His uncle is in prison and soon his father finds himself on the wrong side of the law. The last thing Budi needs is to inadvertently become involved with The Dragon – the most feared man in Jakarta.
This is so much more than a football book. It is endorsed by Amnesty International, which says a lot about its credentials. The reality of child labour will astonish many young readers, as will the existence that youngsters in other countries face. Both are issues that are, by and large, hidden in full view so to speak. We hear about them, but rarely take notice. As such, Kick forces you, as a reader, to question your own stance on certain issues.
As with so many books, this is a story about hopes, dreams and friendships and how these can shine through in difficult circumstances. The interplay between Budi and his best friend, Rochy, is exquisite. Rochy is everything to Budi: a brotherly figure, a font of knowledge, a role-model, a hero. Yet as the narrative progresses, so does their relationship. We see how external factors affect long-held bonds. We see how friendship brings out the best and worst in each other. Their relationship is an emotional rollercoaster.
Mitch Johnson has skilfully used football as a vehicle to present many deeper issues. By doing so, the theme of football will grab the attention of many readers and gives a tangible way into the more complex strands of narrative.
I had heard many positive things about this book before I picked it up at the library. Still, I was surprised by the power of the book. For children, it presents huge issues in an engaging way that doesn’t feel forced. It is a stunning debut novel, one that should be read by as many children as possible – not just football fans.
Age recommendation: 9-13 years