This coming-of-age drama tells the story of Jerome Jackson, a 13-year-old, seriously talented footballer who is desperate to reach the highest level.
The story is about struggling to grow up. Even being a gifted footballer is no escape route from the adversity that some young people face. Jerome is a victim of racism and domestic violence, and he also has to choose whether or not to follow his friends into dangerous and illegal situations. For Jerome, this means putting a football career on the line for the sake of his friends. The adversity Jerome faces is well-described, and is believable and dramatic.
Jerome’s story is less about football and more about the importance of staying connected to one’s community. The joy and pleasure in Jerome’s life come from sharing food and listening to music with other members of his neighbourhood, from visiting the barber shop and making time for his mother.
At every stage of Jerome’s journey, he is shepherded by an unlikely hero – Ian Wright. Wright’s presence in the story is overwhelming. He is impressed by Jerome on the Hackney Marshes and soon bumps into him again when DJ-ing in a local barber shop! He becomes a guiding light for Jerome, helping him overcome the problems he faces at home and at school, using his connections to give Jerome the opportunity to showcase his undoubted talents. If young readers aren’t already aware of Wright’s impressive accomplishments, they will be by the end of the book.
It would be easy to criticise this book as a vanity project but that would be unfair to a story that is genuinely engaging throughout, with real moments of drama. Readers will want to find out whether or not Jerome is able to find his own path to the big time, whether they are football fans or not.