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Thursday, November 17, 2011

'Gracie Faltrain' series by Cath Crowley


World, meet Gracie Faltrain. She’s in year 10, is her school’s soccer superstar and the renegade girl who plays on the boy’s team. Gracie is a phenomenal player, because when she’s on the field she grows wings and never misses a goal. But she plays for herself. She doesn’t pass or share the glory – when Gracie Faltrain plays, she plays to win, and nobody better get in her way.


But Gracie is slowly starting to learn that winning by yourself isn’t nearly as satisfying as sharing the triumph with a team. The same way her family isn’t whole when her dad is away and her mum misses him. Or how Gracie is lost when her best friend, Jane, moves to England for her dad’s work, and Gracie becomes a social outcast at school. Soccer is about teamwork, sharing the glory and commiserating the loss . . . the same can be said of friendships and relationships.

We stay with Gracie through to year eleven. She’s still a soccer superstar, but one year on and she has gained a friend – the geeky, shy and sweet Alyce Fuller is firmly under Gracie’s wing. Then there’s Andrew Flemming, Gracie’s soccer teammate who has finally become a friend, and the object of Alyce’s affections. Then there’s Martin Knight – soccer captain and Gracie’s new boyfriend. Martin’s mum left eight years ago, and her absence still stings. But Gracie Faltrain is here to save the day and fix everyone’s problems, even if she doesn’t understand them. Gracie’s about to learn though, that sometimes you’ve got to let yourself lose when there’s just no way to win.

And, finally, we’re with Grace in her final year of high school. Dan Woodbury is a player from the opposition, but that doesn’t mean Gracie can’t be intrigued by his lip-ring and flying skills. Jane is back from England and dreaming of Gracie’s teammate, Corelli, in his Superman suit. Alyce Fuller is completey and totally over Andew Flemming . . . right when he realizes how much he wants her back. Annabelle Orion is going from annoying mean-girl to Gracie’s arch-nemesis in record time, and Martin doesn’t want anything to do with Gracie anymore. But the championships are around the corner, and Gracie has to make some big decisions about where soccer fits into the great scheme of her future.

Cath Crowley’s ‘Gracie Faltrain’ series debuted in 2004 with ‘The Life and Times of Gracie Faltrain’. In 2006 Crowley wrote ‘Gracie Faltrain Takes Control’, and she concluded the series in 2008 with ‘Gracie Faltrain Gets It Right (Finally)’.

Ever since falling in love with Crowley’s ‘Graffiti Moon’ I have had a voracious appetite for her written word. So it was with utter glee that I delved into the ‘Gracie Faltrain’ series . . . and, as has become her MO, Cath Crowley does not disappoint in the least.

The ‘Gracie Faltrain’ series spans three years in the high school soccer career of one Gracie Faltrain – only girl on the boy’s soccer team and catastrophic klutz. Gracie is a superb character, and even though she’s nothing like Crowley’s other beloved female leads, Charlie Duskin or Lucy, Gracie still has the feel of a Crowley creation. She’s a tomboy with a temper, often time oblivious to the thoughts and feelings of others around her (until it’s too late), loyal to a fault and fiercely competitive. She’s brilliant. Throughout the three books we read how Gracie gets it so, so wrong . . . and sometimes she learns how to save the game, but other times her lesson comes from accepting defeat and knowing when she’s beat.

Helping Gracie along the way is a cast of unforgettable secondary characters aplenty. Gracie is our main narrator, but over the course of three books each major and minor character gets their turn at narrating. Gracie’s parents take the lead a lot in the first book, explaining their side of separation and how hard it is to watch Gracie muck up from the sidelines of her life. But in the final two books the narrative voice is taken over by Gracie’s nearest and dearest friends. There’s her best friend, Alyce, the school nerd who gets her heart broken by a popular soccer jock. Andrew Flemming, said popular jock who learns his own self-worth only when the girl he hurt proves it to him. Jane, Gracie’s other best friend, relegated to England for the first two books but back in Australia for the finale and with a broken internal GPS. Martin Knight, in turns Gracie’s biggest fan and harshest commentator.

Multiple narrations are definitely Cath Crowley’s style – it’s her groove and signature move, and it works pitch-perfectly in ‘Gracie Faltrain’. When I first read the plethora of POVs in ‘The Life and Times’ I was a little overwhelmed – particularly when we get Gracie’s parents narrating too. But it works. Once Crowley gets readers into her rhythm, it becomes the most natural thing to be given a window into these people’s heads, to read the ways they bounce off each other and fall in misunderstandings and tangled webs. And Gracie’s parents offer some of the most poignant insights of the entire series;


HELEN FALTRAIN

I read somewhere that spiders can spin silk strong enough to hold the weight of a thousand trucks. I tried to imagine those lines of silver, thinner than air, stronger than steel. Sometimes I think that a hundred webs, invisible gossamers, connect Gracie and me. They coat our bodies, tie our limbs together, link our hearts. They can stretch across cities, countries – even anger. Unbreakable. I felt them that first time I watched her play soccer.
She needed to win so badly. I watched a new Gracie crack out of her cocoon that day. Grey, moth-like, she seemed covered in a dust that let her take to the air. Fly. They’re beautiful things, moths, with their dark patterned wings hooking on wind to push them forward. You have to be careful with them, though. Brush them just lightly, and they can’t fly anymore.

- ‘The Life and Times of Gracie Faltrain’


Also, in the multiple narrations, certain character’s voices come to echo Crowley’s other works. Martin Knight is still living in the aftermath of his mother’s abandonment, and there’s a little of the heartsick Charlie Duskin and Ed in him. Likewise, when Gracie’s enemy, Annabelle Orion, takes the narrative reigns, her insights hint at some of the same struggles that Charlie Duskin goes through. It’s the same with Alyce Fuller, the no-hope nerd who is ignored by everyone (including Gracie) in the first book – she too has echoes of Charlie. All of these characters touch on what Cath Crowley is most curious about in her writing – people on the fringe, looking in. She loves the misfits and no-hopers, the ones who kick themselves down . . . and then she writes beautifully about how they get back up. They’re all here in the ‘Gracie Faltrain’ books, and they are lovely to read. But be warned, this is a series that will cause tears. But hey, no pain no gain, and there’s a lot to gain from the ‘Gracie Faltrain’ series.

I love, love, loved all three of these books. This is a wonderful series about fighting for what you want and not being afraid to stuff up, just so long as you admit when you’re wrong and do your damndest to make amends. And this series is funny. Gracie is infectious; her klutzy catastrophes will leave you belly-aching, and the social shenanigans Gracie finds herself in will leave you vicariously red-faced.

Hands up if anyone else fells like they’re in a strange life-looping door that keeps swinging back to hit them on the butt?
- 'Gracie Faltrain Gets It Right (Finally)'


Cath Crowley is truly one of Australia’s finest YA authors. ‘Gracie Faltrain’ is a series with a lot of heart; exploring the pitfalls and soars of high school through the wonderfully fumbling Gracie Faltrain. If you loved ‘Graffiti Moon’ and ‘Chasing Charlie Duskin’, then be assured that Cath Crowley has been writing on a role since way back in 2004. . .

5/5

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