Based in Indonesia, this book from new voice Mitch Johnson explores the gritty world of child labour, poverty and corruption through the eyes of 12-year-old Budi. Mad about football, Budi dreams of being an international football star. These dreams and his devotion to Real Madrid and its star player Kieran Wakefield sustain him in his tough world. The factory where Budi and other children labour for long hours in untenable conditions is harsh and unsympathetic, while his impoverished home life and lack of treatment for his haemophilia provide little relief.
While this is an important and worthy book shining a light on the lack of rights for children in parts of Asia, the narrative is a little too self-conscious and moralistic, which is likely to be picked up very quickly by young readers. Stories based in the developing world need to be handled with great sensitivity to avoid engendering feelings of pity and guilt in readers, which does little to empower the fictional characters or the world in which they live.
Though Budi’s life is tough, he has a loving and supportive family, and friends that help him through. The story arc ultimately brings little by way of change in his life, though change does happen around him, generally without significant action on his part. Football features significantly in the story, which will appeal to young fans of the game, and there are plenty of action scenes and detailed talk of matches and players.