I am no expert when it comes to young adult fiction but, as I can own to being young at heart and having a healthy respect for the game of Australian Rules Football (around which much of the action in The Whole of My World revolves), I claim enough confidence to review this entertaining novel by Nicole Hayes. It’s also no secret that I am a huge fan of Australian voices in fiction and The Whole of my World is distinctly Australian.
Hayes admits in a Hypable interview with Marama Whyte to mining her own childhood for the background for this novel (and you can detect the similarities between Hayes and the central character, Shelley, who allows herself to be almost swallowed up by the fans and the players and the hype that make up the world of Aussie Rules).
Despite some minor insecurity, Shelly knows herself pretty well:
Somewhere deep down I’m ashamed of my gloating, but it’s pretty deep and easy to ignore. (83)
The game of football and the people surrounding it fill the void left by tragedy on the home front. As Shelley immerses herself in this other world, she comes close to losing her innocence but is ultimately saved by her own competence and common sense, as much as by the knowledge that, despite circumstances sometimes indicating otherwise, she is loved by her family and friends.
Hayes’ clever way with words is never more evident than when she talks about the game of football and its resonance to the city of Melbourne:
The moment you’re born in this city, or even if you move here, you have to choose a team to barrack for… [sometimes] it’s handed down to you like property or, if you barrack for Carringbush, a hereditary disease. (73)
Sections and chapters are named in true footballing parlance: ‘Pre-season’, ‘One day in September’, ‘Best on Ground’ and the like and Hayes is clearly knowledgeable about the game, its players, and Melbourne – the city that is still the capital as far as AFL is concerned.
But it’s not all about the Sherrin and the big white posts. Hayes has a knack for painting her characters uniquely. Of her new friend, Shelly thinks:-
Individually, her features could be pretty but, somehow, in the process of constructing a face, the bits don’t quite seem to match. (21)
The story is set in the eighties and so some of the references might prove baffling for the book’s intended audience. No doubt, there will be a few teenagers asking their parents “Who is Kim Wilde?” or “is The Waltons a television show?” and “who or what is the Brady Bunch?”
I’m pleased that Hayes provided a fictional cloak for her characters and football teams as it allowed her the freedom to explore motivation more easily and I’m sure she would have felt shackled if Shelley’s team and the named players were real.
One of my favourite aspects of this novel is the innocence (but growing awareness) with which Shelley embroils herself in a friendship with an older, married man. Mick ‘Eddie’ Edwards is clearly a handsome and charismatic guy. We are never quite sure of his exact motives which I think in a YA book is just as it should be and could provide for some great educational discussion points for teenagers.
Thanks Lisa at ANZ Litlovers for sending this book to me. Lisa would be part of a minority group in Victoria – someone who I don’t think has ever been to a game of Australian Rules Football – but she knew I would appreciate the backstory and enjoy reading The Whole of My World for review.
Hayes, Nicole. The Whole of my World, Woolshed Press, Random House, Sydney, 2013.
ISBN: 978 74275 860 2