Sunday 31 March 2019

Unstoppable by Dan Freedman, reviewed by Dawn Finch

First the blurb...
Secrets and lies . . . secrets and lies . . . Fourteen-year-old twins, Kaine and Roxy, used to be close, but now they can hardly bear to be in the same room. Roxy hates the way her brother behaves - Kaine might be brilliant at football but he's always in trouble and cares nothing about his family. And Kaine despises the way his supposedly-perfect sister, dominates their parents in her ambition to reach Wimbledon. But the twins are both hiding dangerous secrets of their own, secrets that could destroy everything they are working towards - and both Roxy and Kaine's survival hangs precariously in the balance. 

Readers are probably most familiar with Dan Freedman's football books for kids. His series of novels for younger readers featuring his character, Jamie Johnson, have gripped tens of thousands of kids. As Freedman's background is in football (he was a football writer and even the FA's editor) he established himself in the world of children's books with a genuinely exciting set of stories based around the game. Unstoppable is slight swerve-ball from his established playing field, but one that he definitely scores with.

Freedman is an inspiring speaker in schools and had a huge impact on the kids in my school when he came to visit. He has a very natural rapport with young people, and this understanding shows in Unstoppable. Possibly in no small part due to the fact that this new book has been inspired by things Freedman has heard or been told by pupils in the schools he has visited.

Football is the lace that threads this novel together (and tennis strings things along too), but the action really hinges on the main players, their relationships with their families, and the sports that they feel define them. Kaine and Roxy are instantly relatable and the way they talk and act does feel very real. The interplay of sibling rivalry never feels as if Freedman has casually gender-flipped the situation. Kaine and Roxy are both very strong characters. The twins feel very different from each other, but ultimately it is their likenesses that both build and resolve the story.

This is a very strong book and one that is a blast of the voice of youth. It deals with issues such as gang culture, youth stress and depression, unemployment, parental pressure, sibling rivalry and the kind of family crises that most will recognise. Unstoppable deals with them with refreshing honesty and never feels preachy. I hope this book will get the attention it deserves. 

Unstoppable by Dan Freedman is published by David Fickling Books
ISBN - 9781788450492 

Dawn Finch is a children's author and librarian.


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