________________ CM . . . . Volume XXII Number 19. . . .January 19, 2016


The Beautiful Game.

David Skuy.
Toronto, ON: James Lorimer, 2015.
220 pp., pbk. & epub, $12.95 (pbk.).
ISBN 978-1-4594-0962-0 (pbk.), ISBN 978-1-4594-0964-4 (epub).

Grades 6-8 / Ages 11-13.

Review by Karen Rankin.

**½ /4


It was a quick ride to City Hall Square, about ten minutes. [Cody, Kenneth, and Luca] locked their bikes to some parking meters and crossed the street to join the throng of people milling about. A large stage flanked by two tall speakers had been set up in front of the main building. A banner across the stage read UPW SAYS THANKS – TO A GREAT COMMUNITY. Food trucks lined the far side of the square.

Kenneth sniffed the air. “I sense we’re close to food,” he said.

“Maybe we should ask those people eating pizza and hot dogs?” Luca said.

“Great idea Mr. Stupid – and end up totally lost,” Kenneth said. “Follow me.”

Kenneth led them into the crowd. Very soon they all had pizza slices, French fries, cotton candy, hot dogs, and a drink. Cody could barely carry it all.

“Where are the rest of the guys?” Cody asked.

Kenneth sniffed the air again. “Not sure. Let’s go ask those strange-looking creatures over there.” He nodded to the left – where Paulo, David, William, and Brandon were sitting on a patch of grass. They’d already gotten their food.

“Thanks for waiting,” Kenneth said to them. “Everyone knows I’m a rude pig. But you guys? I’m shocked.”

Kenneth plopped himself next to William. Cody took a spot off to the side.

“What’s that banner over the stage all about?” Luca said. “What’s a UPW?”

“I think it’s the factory guys,” David said.

Kenneth raised an eyebrow. “Why are you always so technical?”

“My dad told me they basically clean water,” William said. “Maybe they’re some sorta environmental company.”

Cody didn’t want to correct William in front of everyone. Feedback crackled over the sound system, and he decided to let it go. It didn’t matter.

A man walked out on the stage and took the microphone.

“That’s Ian,” Kenneth exclaimed.

Cody sat up. Why was Timothy’s dad involved in this?

“Hi everyone,” Ian said, “and welcome to the UPW kick-off party. We’re all excited to be working with such a first-class organization.”

The speakers crackled again. Another man came out and tried to take the microphone from Ian.

“That’s Mitch,” Luca said.

Cody could only wonder what was going on. John’s dad was part of this, too?

Ian pulled the microphone away and waved at Mitch dismissively with the back of his hand. Mitch backed up slowly and left the stage.

“I want to thank our good friends at UPW for this food and this great day,” Ian said, “and for creating a hundred new jobs with the new water processing plant. And let’s not forget the community centre. And, hold onto your hats, I just learned that UPW is donating twenty-five thousand dollars toward youth sports programming.”


Cody, 13, had cancer but it’s in remission now, and he’s playing soccer for the Lions team. Near the beginning of The Beautiful Game, practically everyone in town has gathered at City Hall Square – as per the above excerpt – to see what the arrival of Ultra Pure Water (UPW) means to their town. Protestors point out that UPW factories have polluted sites all over the world as they go about their business of cleaning silicon chips. When Cody was undergoing chemotherapy, he loved being bundled up and taken to the shore of nearby Lake Tawson. Just gazing out at the water seemed to help him get better. Cody does some research and learns that his precious lake will likely be ruined by chemicals such as arsenic and lead if UPW opens its proposed factory. He decides he has to save Lake Tawson and comes up with the idea of a marathon soccer game on its shore. He hopes this will draw enough attention to the nefarious side of UPW before the town council votes on giving the company approval to build. Not all of his teammates play, but the game is open to anyone, and so other young people join in. Because the town is quite small, a number of boys on the team, like Cody himself, have parents whose jobs are connected in some way to the fortunes of UPW. This creates tension on Cody’s team. Additionally, the boys who are playing the marathon game are tired from their Lion’s practices and games. So, there is pressure from different factions to cease the marathon game. But Cody and his friends manage to keep the game going through the summer until the council votes. Even though council allows UPW to build their factory, Cody’s marathon game has sent a loud enough message that Lake Tawson is ultimately spared.

     At the beginning of The Beautiful Game, Cody is relatively shy and insecure. Cancer, as well as bullying, have taken an emotional toll. (When he’d lost his hair because of chemotherapy, he’d been bullied by some former Lions players, led by Timothy who had eventually moved to another team, the Storm.) When Cody perseveres with the marathon game idea, it leads to dissension within the Lions team and his own family, as well as further bullying from Timothy and his gang on the Storm. But, with clear thinking and some heartfelt conversations, Cody weathers it all, becoming more mature in the process. Cody’s friends are convincing and unique characters. Kenneth and Luca add levity. Paulo, who is visiting from Brazil, has seen the damage big business did there by clear-cutting forests. And Mandy, with whom Cody quickly develops a comfortable rapport after their first meeting at the UPW town event, is the daughter of the lead protestor and an excellent soccer player whose brother recently died of cancer. Cody’s parents are supportive, but his mom is fearful of the cancer reoccurring and, therefore, he feels she’s over-protective. His dad is preoccupied with his own work issues, but, after demanding that Cody attend a meeting in support of UPW at City Hall, which Cody does, he has second thoughts and later apologizes. Timothy is a straight-up sexist and racist bully, while Cody concludes that his number one side-kick, John, is really just seeking acceptance from the wrong guy.

     The author includes some of the Lion’s coach’s diagrams showing players’ positions for scoring opportunities. These pictures are fun and help to clarify the soccer plays. One of the games between the Lions and the Storm is exciting while another lacks a sense of intensity or urgency.

     The Beautiful Game would have benefited from more rigorous editing. There are a lot of messages in the story – from the power of the ‘little guy’ to influence big business, to bullying, racism, believing in yourself, and the importance of family – all of them worthy. At times, however, their delivery feels somewhat heavyhanded, as in the following passage between Cody and Mandy:

“That was nice of you,” Cody said to her. “I bet your mom felt better with you there.”

Mandy’s face turned a bit red. “Not sure about that – but I figured she wanted me to watch with her.”

Cody didn’t care that he’d said something so personal. Mandy needed to hear that she’d done a good thing – but as Kenneth had taught him, he didn’t have to overdo the serious routine either.

     And later,

“That’s a nice idea,” Cody said. He was proud of her. She was putting her family first.

     Also, the ‘family loyalty’ and ‘power of the little guy’ messages become somewhat confusing. Cody, instigator of the marathon game to stop UPW’s environmental destruction, says that, if his parents wanted him to, he would go to a meeting in support of UPW again. So, what is he really saying?

     The Beautiful Game will be appreciated most by strong readers able to assimilate a lot of characters.


Karen Rankin is a Toronto teacher and writer of children’s stories.

To comment on this title or this review, send mail to cm@umanitoba.ca.

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