Pete Kalu, The Silent Striker

Hope Road, 2015, ISBN 9178-1-908446-33-6

Marcus lives and breathes football. He's the acknowledged star of his school's team. It's a crucial time in the school league. His school is up against a far more prestigious one. His skills will certainly be needed. What's more, there's a Manchester United talent scout out and about, looking for promising players. But things start to go very wrong for Marcus. He's constantly in trouble at school. One teacher in particular picks on him incessantly. When his behaviour in class leads to suspension from the team his anger and resentment go deep. A suggestion by the teacher that there may be problems with his hearing doesn't go down well. He's taunted by the boy who takes his place on the team, and even his friends seem to be deserting him. His parents are too tied up with the stress of making ends meet and the demands of his baby sister to give him much time, and when they do it just adds to his tension. The news at his hearing test that he's going to have to wear hearing aids is almost too much to bear. The one bright spot is his growing friendship with Adele, but that too brings problems. He is accused of having a spy as a girlfriend. She's the sister of a player on the rival team, and daughter of their temporary coach, a man who used racist language against the referee at the last fixture between the two schools. When she invites him home, her father runs him out of the house. The pressures on Marcus are too much too bear. But having reached the point of utter despair, he finally discovers support and help. For the first time in months there's laughter in his family. His friendships start to re-establish themselves. And he's allowed back on to the team, just in time for the vital match.

Football fans will very much enjoy this novel. Games and tactics are here in abundance. There is a whole lot more as well. The Silent Striker deserves a wide audience. Kalu writes sensitively about racism. His depiction of Marcus's deafness and the emotional impact of his disability are extremely well portrayed. His characters ring true, as do his portrayals of teenage friendships and family life. The book is the first of a series.