The Penalty

Sometimes I stop and ask myself how I can be sure that a book is good. When I am already reading it, is what I mean. If it flows easily and is exciting or romantic or whatever. Does that alone make it good?

And then along comes a book like Mal Peet’s The Penalty and there is no need to wonder, because you just know you are in the presence of greatness. Even when it’s a book – partly – about football.

This was the one I missed before, and I was wondering what to do about it when I discovered that Walker are re-issuing Mal’s older novels to fit in with the oh so gorgeous design of his new one, Life: An Exploded Diagram. I had worried in case it might be wrong to read the second Paul Faustino book last (I began with the third and then went on to the first), but it was fine.

Mal Peet, The Penalty

The Penalty is a book about two things. First there is the football, featuring a new and very young star player, El Brujito. Journalist Paul Faustino happens to be in his home town soon after the player mysteriously disappears. The second topic is African style religion, which isn’t voodoo, but was probably inspired by it. The reader is introduced to the ancient slave trade, and there is a mix of the now with the then, and the setting of San Juan being the thing in common.

Neither is your ordinary YA topic, and the question here is how do we know it is a YA book? With the exception of meeting some of the characters at age 14, they are all adults. But you sort of know it’s a YA novel. Latin America, football, politics, religion, and all written in a grown-up way, but still…

It all ties together quite neatly, and the end is… well, it’s different.

I like Paul Faustino, and I like Mal Peet. This is what good is. In case I wonder again.

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7 responses to “The Penalty

  1. I love this book – and indeed all Mal Peet’s books – but it baffles me that they are defined as YA books. I think they’d thrive in the adult market.

  2. You’re right, Keren. Maybe Mal would be both rich(er) and (more) famous if he sold out to those adult readers. But where would that leave the young ones? Some of them need quality books to take away that vampire aftertaste.

  3. Well, it wouldn’t really be a sell-out. They are perfect crossover books, that work in both markets. I just find it odd that they are primarily categorised as young adult, and I struggle to find a justification for that.

  4. Agree entirely about adult market. Sure that LIfe etc would be on many prize shortlists if it were so categorised. Love the Faustino books too. Mal Peet can do no wrong, bookwise.

  5. I’m glad you’ve given The Penalty a plug. I’ve always felt it’s one of Mal’s finest and yet most neglected books. Well worth a read for anyone who’s missed it.

  6. I have been bugging you about Mal for a long time, Witch, though will stop just short of I told you so. But I don’t see why they’re any less YA than lots of other incredibly well-written books for kids. Honestly, I don’t. I hear it a lot (Mal Peet isn’t really a children’s writer) but it’s not like they’re too dark or too disturbing or too difficult for kids. So why not YA?

  7. I HAVE been reading his books! This was the last YA novel of his for me.

    I suppose because I and others think that with only adults featuring in the books, ‘children’ won’t want to know. Or their parents (hah) won’t like the idea of a chain-smoking adult in bars as the main character.

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