All The Books I Can Read

1 girl….2 many books!

Review: The F Team by Rawah Arja

on September 17, 2020

The F Team
Rawah Arja
Giramondo Publishing Company
2020, 363p
Copy courtesy of the publisher

Blurb {from the publisher/}:

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.

Recently I saw YA/MG Aussie author and blogger Danielle Binks heaping praise on this and I think that Danielle and I have some pretty similar tastes so I made a decision to bump this up my pile and check it out as soon as I could.

It centres around the suburb of Punchbowl in Sydney’s south-west. In probably the 1990s, Punchbowl became one of those notorious suburbs in the news, particularly centred around the Lebanese community. There was a lot of talk of gangs, obnoxious and criminal behaviour, it became a place people talked about in disparaging ways, as did the neighbouring suburbs around the Canterbury-Bankstown area. It was probably just the latest at the time, in a long line of ‘targeted’ suburbs heavy with multicultural influence where one or two incidents mean that everyone gets tarred with a similar brush. It still happens today – here in Melbourne where I live, the focus is on suburbs rife with Sudanese ‘gangs’ and much is made of how there are places where people are too scared to go out at night.

Tarik, the main character, is Lebanese. His parents came to Australia, as his dad will tell anyone that wants to listen ‘to give his kids a better life than he had’. Tarik is part of a busy, noisy, big family – he has two brothers and two sisters and they all still live at home. His uncle also lives with them too and keeps bees in the backyard where he makes honey. Tarik and his friends go to Punchbowl High School, which thanks to a few pranks and negative incidents that have made the news in recent times, is in danger of being shut down. There’s a new principal who is determined to drag the school’s image up from the gutter and keep it open and he’s not afraid to use Tarik and his friends to do it. They’re rugby league players and the principal comes up with the idea (punishment?) to make them participate in a camp run in conjunction with the National Rugby League (NRL) but Tarik and his friends get paired with kids from Cronulla, which was famously the scene of the Cronulla race riots, focused on those of Middle Eastern background.

This book is brilliant – I absolutely loved it! Tarik and his friends are this tight knit, raucous bunch of boys who fight and rough each other up and tease each other but at the bottom of it, they are family. They are funny and clever and real and full of flaws. Tarik himself, whilst good-looking and smart, destined to go far, is clumsy emotionally at times, hurting his sister and his uncle and the girl he likes (and the girl he doesn’t) with thoughtless, sometimes sexiest comments. He gets schooled on what ‘women’s work’ is – his mother is a rather traditional stay at home Arab mother who nurtures with food and he seems to see cooking and cleaning and preparing as not things men should do. Despite this though, Tarik has a really good heart and he feels it when he upsets people. He’s also really distressed when one of his close friends (his closest) starts acting out in ways that Tarik doesn’t understand. He knows he needs to find out why but he doesn’t have the emotional maturity to force the confrontation, instead taking refuge sometimes in anger himself. The friendships between the boys (and the ups and downs thereof) is so well done, so real, for boys that are fifteen and in year 10, who have the impact of a possible school closure going on over their heads and the difficulties of adolescence and family issues for some of them as well.

The boys are passionate about their rugby league (Canterbury-Bankstown have a team in the NRL, the Bulldogs that has a very loud and obsessive fanbase) and games make up a portion of the book as well as the boys getting tickets to see an NRL game. Rawah Arja perfectly captures the atmosphere of a “Doggies” game and I really enjoyed that part, especially Ibby’s antics. I enjoyed how the principal used the boys’ love of the sport to channel them, but he demands things from them in return and he’s not afraid to take things away from them (Tarik’s captaincy in particular) in order to pull them into line. A lot of what Tarik’s friends do, or the other boys in school, is stereotypical stupid high school boys stuff. I remember my grade 10 classes tormenting casual teachers in much the same way as Tarik’s class do the science teacher here but it’s the fact that the school is so under scrutiny that makes everything they do seem heightened by 1000x. A harmless scuffle in the schoolyard becomes a dramatic brawl, with mobile phone footage leaked to the local news, etc. All those added together keep the school in danger and it’s the new principal’s job to save it. His methods are unorthodox and the boys resent the heck out of him at first….but slowly, he makes progress. And brings them round.

My favourite part of this was Tarik’s family. It’s big and noisy and chaotic and his dad with his funny lectures and expectations of Tarik’s behaviour (he’s not afraid to embarrass the heck out of Tarik when he thinks Tarik has done the wrong thing) and his mother who takes care of everyone, his smart and dedicated older sister as well as his clever and funny younger sister. Tarik is very family oriented and everyone in the neighbourhood is basically welcome for a meal at his place. Tarik’s mother often feeds his friends who perhaps have less of a family influence at home or who aren’t quite a part of a similar type of family unit. There’s a real contrast between Tarik’s family and Aaron’s (from the Cronulla school). Tarik sees the possessions whereas Aaron sees the connections. And the part with Tarik and his uncle is heartbreaking and beautiful. My close second favourite part of the book was the way the boys from Punchbowl and the boys from Cronulla inch towards friendship. There’s a lot of hostility and wariness at first but soon they are sort of united by a common enemy and they learn to adjust and accept each other and from there, it’s a journey toward being a team, towards building friendships with people who are outside of their social and cultural circles.

And as funny as this is, there’s plenty of seriousness in here as the boys negotiate racism and social expectations and perceptions. It was interesting reading from this perspective as well, of hearing how the judgements and accusations affect them as a whole and how they rally behind each other as a community. How they fight the ‘Angry Arab’ stereotype, or struggle against fighting it, every day. I don’t read a lot of YA from a male perspective so for me, this was refreshing. I also have two sons that’ll be teenagers soon and this is the sort of book I want them both to be reading.

I thought this was fantastic. Highly recommended.


Book #183 of 2020

The F Team is book #71 of my Australian Women Writers Challenge for 2020

I’m also counting The F Team towards my Reading Women Challenge, hosted by the Reading Women Podcast. I’ll be using it to check off prompt #13 – by an Arab woman. It’s the 15th book completed for the challenge.


One response to “Review: The F Team by Rawah Arja

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