Life and Times of Gracie Faltrain, The - Cath Crowley “ALYCE: 'Gracie's got brown hair, like me. She's about the same height, too. People notice her. I think it's her voice. It's always louder than you expect and covered with laughter.
I was surprised when she said she didn't want to work with me. I don't know Gracie very well, but I remember once in Year 3 she gave me an invitation to her party. She spelt my name right. Everyone always spells it with an 'i', even the teachers. Ever since then I thought she would be nice. I never thought she'd look at me like I was nothing.”

The blurb on the cover of my paperback edition of Cath Crowley’s YA debut says "A novel about scoring the perfect goal ... and the perfect boy" and the back cover text starts with “Goal-kicking supergirl, soccer star”. In combination with the rather bland design and the simplistic title I imagined the book to be a middle-grade story about a girl who has to keep her balance between starring in a mainly male domain and being just a girl in love. A story about gender, thinly coated with a layer of romance. A story like Dairy Queen by Catherine Gilbert Murdock, but aimed at a younger audience and told with a lighter, fluffier voice. A story I might like.

My conclusions turned out to be very wrong. I would say The Life and Times of Gracie Faltrain is a book about relationships. It depicts how what we do and say and feel affects others and how others affect us. I never would sort it as middle-grade (Gracie is in Year 10), and although it contained more than a few laugh-out-loud-moments and a truckload of hope, 'fluffy' and 'light' are words I wouldn’t tolerate to be used around it. Gracie Faltrain is a very short book. Most of its pages are not even half-way filled with words. But the sentences are on the spot, heart-wrenching and almost poetic. I want to quote them all. I want to read them again. I do not like the book. I love it, fiercely. I treasure it even more than Graffiti Moon and I immediately went over to the Fishpond to order the sequel, Gracie Faltrain Takes Control.

Soccer team striker Jake Morieson complains about Gracie that "She plays soccer like she’s out there alone. And that’s no way to play." Gracie herself claims that "The game’s won when I get on that field." Statements like these do not paint a pretty picture of the main character – or of any other character either. The narrator flips the point of view from head to head and treats the reader mercilessly with the repercussions one person’s behavior has on the others. If you tend to judge people you meet very early you might quickly decide to dislike Gracie for perpetually hogging the ball, for mooning about a shallow boy, for being upset about her best friend’s departure to Europe - without even once asking her how she dealt with being relocated to a far away and unknown country - and for being mean to her classmate Alyce. You might cluck your tongue because Martin Knight’s mother left her kids without a goodbye and because Gracie’s father Bill returns less and less frequently home to his family on the weekends although his daughter and wife need him. But if you patiently wait for the respective opposite point of view, it almost audibly clicks inside your head you begin to feel and root for everybody, because somehow you get their emotions and you find a bit of yourself in most of them. But at no point the interwoven thoughts and fates turn the story into something soppy. The book always felt incredibly real and honest to me.

Surprisingly the voices I liked best were the ones of Gracie’s parents, Helen and Bill, who love each other, but who feel their common ground and their reasons to hold fast to each other slip quietly away:

"BILL: I'm always looking for what will make me whole. What will make me happy? Somewhere along the way I started to think it wasn't Helen anymore. She hasn't changed. Her laugh is still the one I remember. Her finger is still the one I put the ring on all those years ago. I can't understand why I don't want to curve next to her, keep her back warm anymore. Surely you don't lose love like keys?"

”HELEN: [...] That’s when I see him again for the first time. Really see him. He is forty and tired and travelling everywhere with the books he loves so much piled in the back of his car. 'I forgot about your bookshop,’ I say. ‘Baby, you and Gracie are more important to me than books or a shop,’ he answers, and I think two things: when I get back I will find a way to give him his dream, but more importantly for the moment, he called me baby."

Cath Crowley managed to express their thoughts about each other and about their crumbling bond so achingly beautifully that I wished she would attempt to write an adult contemporary in the future. I am convinced she would ace it as well. She is simply that good at words and at understanding how a human being ticks – no matter how old or young.

”ANNABELLE: Did you see those undies?
NICK: You have to admit, she has a great body.”