If the thought of being 13 again makes you more nauseous than nostalgic, Kickoff is not the book for you. However, if you feel free to channel your inner tween, read on. Donna King, also known as Jenny Oldfield, is the author of several children’s series novels, including the Horses of Half Moon Ranch. Kickoff introduces the reader to Tyra, the new American Army brat at a British school and a self-professed “soccer fanatic.” Kickoff is a light hearted and engaging read, and King keeps the tempo quick with short scenes, dialogue and plenty of on the field action.
King plays to what she feels are the common denominators for the Tyra’s age group: misunderstandings with parents, confusing interactions with peers and the class bully and participation in sports. Interestingly, King includes the female characters’ struggles with sexism in this mix, though the “sexist comments” are of a mild and rather hokey variety. The girls’ soccer team eventually earns the respect of the boys’ team, and in several scenes the boys even comment to one another on the talent of the girls. King’s presentations of these adolescent male conversations - and, in fact, much of the “slang” dialogue in the book - is optimistic and innocent at best, and eye-rollingly bad at worst. I doubt this will stop younger ones from enjoying the book, though they may think the characters are a little old-fashioned.
King writes positive, encouraging stories for a younger generation, and it is difficult to find fault with her messages of teamwork and tolerance (the heroine eventually befriends even the class bully). Parents will appreciate the King’s lack of focus on the physical appearance and sex appeal of the female characters, and the increased attention to their physical activity and friendship. I can still describe Nancy Drew’s “creamy complexion” to this day, so the experience of being “blind” to the characters’ physical appearance was slightly off-putting, but also liberating. In a contemporary culture of Bratz dolls and constant updates on Paris Hilton, what tween girl couldn’t use a little break?