Review: The F Team by Rawah Arja

on Australian, LoveOzYA, Young Adult Books
The F Team by Rawah Arja
Published by Giramondo
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I received an advanced copy from the publisher in exchange for an honest review

Synopsis

Meet Tariq Nader, leader of ‘The Wolf Pack’ at Punchbowl High, who has been commanded by the new principal to join a football competition with his mates in order to rehabilitate the public image of their school. When the team is formed, Tariq learns there’s a major catch – half of the team is made up of white boys from Cronulla, aka enemy territory – and he must compete with their strongest player for captaincy of the team.

At school Tariq thinks he has life all figured out until he falls for a new girl called Jamila, who challenges everything he thought he knew. At home, his outspoken ways have brought him into conflict with his family. Now, with complications on all fronts, he has to dig deep to control his anger, and find what it takes to be a leader.

In confronting and often hilarious situations, Tariq’s relationships with his extended Lebanese family and his friends are tested like never before, and he comes to learn that his choices can have serious consequences.

Review

The F Team by Rawah Arja is a young adult book ambitious in both scope and length. Every piece of this book is spectacular, from the stunning cover design to Arja’s superb writing, which pulls each tiny moment on the page into an emotionally gripping, joyous and intense reading experience. It is simply one of the best books I’ve ever read.

This book blew me away. It is sharp and funny with a distinctly Australian flavour. The writing is superb, the characters heartfelt and endearing, with beautifully messy and authentic relationships. It is a story full of heart with characters you will love as if they are your own family and a story that will grip you through all 368 pages.

Rawah Arja is an incredible writer. The prose is perfectly crafted, the dialogue witty and, despite being long for a YA book, not one word feels unnecessary. She manages to create a hefty and in-depth look at a period of a teenage boy’s life that is completely enthralling and full of deep emotional connection to the characters.

Through the eyes of Tariq Nader, The F Team pulls together a community of characters, provoking deep empathy and connections to the ups and downs of their lives. The story is bursting with humour yet manages not to diminish the difficulties faced by the characters. Rawah Arja explores many issues teenagers grapple with, as well as bigger problems that are intrinsic to Australian society.  

The book does a good job of examining how everyone has problems in life, some struggle more than others, and many of those problems are down to individual circumstances. However, this doesn’t mean that there aren’t people who also face underlying structural barriers. The way Araj showed that Tariq does face prejudice and racism as a Lebanese Punchbowl High student, but also that he has a really charmed life in comparison to many of his friends and family. I found a really interesting choice which allowed a lot of complex interactions and connections between the characters.

I appreciated the way she worked through the complexities of teenage boys relating to women. She did an amazing job of showing the socialisation of boys into automatic disrespect while picking apart both the ways that they themselves disrupt this norm and giving agency to the female characters in challenging this. I also loved all the times Fariq suddenly realises women have feelings and interests outside of how they relate to men (and specifically him). It was a really cleverly written underlying character growth throughout the book.

I think you can tell Rawah Arja really understands teenage boys. I’m a little hesitant to say this, not being a teenage boy myself, but it just felt so raw and authentic. While completely different to my own experiences as a teenage girl many years ago, I think underlying emotional intensity and confusion is typical of that age group and she wrote how the emotional turmoil of teenagers plays out in different ways depending on individual contexts.

As a side note, the boys’ absolute dedication to the Canterbury Bulldogs through the book made me laugh every time because it reminded me of a Story Factory workshop I did with year 8 boys from a similar area: nearly every kid included a line about the Bulldogs in their (incredibly sincere and lovely) poem.

Reading the story, I felt immense empathy for the students, particularly Tariq. A few times I  had to put the book down because it was a bit overwhelming. At this point, while I enjoy and empathise with teenage characters, when I read a YA book I often have more understanding for the teachers or parents. However, while I understood the motivation of the adults was to help motivate Fariq, the incredible writing made me so strongly empathise with him, I felt his anger and confusion more than anything else.

My favourite Australian books always have a really specific sense of space to a particular area and community. Somehow this makes me connect to the story more. There was a lot of this in The F Team, it felt like a story deeply embedded in its place as if it couldn’t be told anywhere else.

I liked the inclusion of Bankstown Poetry Slam (if you ever have a chance to see them it’s so worth it), I thought that was a nice touch, particularly in the conclusion of the story.

I believe The F Team will be a staple young adult book across Australia, and I am so hopeful we will continue to see more authors like Rawah creating real stories about our country that disrupt the mythologies that have dominated Australian stories for so long. The strong sense of place and community, the fun and humour alongside the complexities of youth in Australia reminded me of Melina Marchetta’s contemporary work and The Sidekicks by Will Kostakis.


Rawah Arja is a writer and teacher from Western Sydney. Her writing has featured in Arab, Australian, Other, SBS Voices and at the Sydney Writer’s Festival. She has received a fellowship from WestWords Varuna Emerging Writers’ Residential Program, is a member of the Finishing School collective of women writers, and teaches creative writing at schools and workshops.

You can find her online via her website, on Twitter or Instagram.

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