Review: The Whole of My World by Nicole Hayes

The Whole of My World is a story of Aussie rules football. It is also a touching story of loss, grief and vulnerabilities. Set in the mid-1980s, we meet Shelley, who is fifteen years old and grieving for her mum. She and her dad don't really know how to cope, but Shelley knows that she is sick of the way the other kids at school look at her, so when her dad decides to send her to a private girls only school, she does not object. There she soon makes friends with Tara. Her new friend is cold and often sullen, but the pair support the same football team and Shelley soon finds herself going with Tara to games, joining the offical cheer squad and most exhilarating of all, going to training where she makes friends with one of her favourite players. Here she finds the chance she desperately needs to start again and not be defined by the tragic events of the past. But things aren't always as glamorous as they seem. Why is Mick--a professional footballer in his thirties--paying her so much attention? Why is everyone, especially Tara and Shelley's Dad so concerned about Mick?

This was an intriguing read for a number of reasons. I found the setting of this one quite interesting, in the world of Aussie Rules, back in an era before women over the age of twelve could participate, and a few years before AFL. In this days, footy was local and it was entirely possible to go to the games and see yourself on television on the replay that evening. The novel is set in Victoria and the VFL teams mentioned are entirely fictitious. (Though it is not difficult to see the parallels between the fictional Falcons, and Hawthorn.) 

Through her obsessive support of the team, Shelley finds a way to move past the grief that has plagued her for the last couple of years--and there is certainly a heartbreaking twist in this particular tale, and it is one that works extremely well. Another thing that is probably worth mentioning is that the novel was published in 2013, (a few years before AFLW was established,) and it raises some very relevant questions about girls and women playing football--Shelley wants desperately to play but is pushed into the role of supporter where, it turns out, the players only want her around to feed their egos. Or worse, in the case of one particular predatory player. (Luckily, these days, a girl like Shelley has the opportunity not just to play, but the potential to play at a professional level.) Side characters like Tara and even school bully Ginnie are well developed and realistic.

Overall, a great read about loss and the role of girls and women in footy.



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