When you're a parent, watching your children grow up is a constant source of pride but also bewilderment. I often find myself shaking my head at how quickly the Madhouse kids are growing up and I had exactly the same feeling when reading the latest Alfie Jones book. In the first book of the series, Alfie Jones and a Change of Fortune, Alfie was a football mad youngster playing in the Kingsway Colts Under-9's team. In the latest episode, Alfie Jones and the Big Decision, which is the fifth book in the series, Alfie is now all grown up at secondary school and taking a distinct interest in girls - or one girl in particular. The clever thing is, he's growing up at the same speed as his readers so they will be able to identify with his changing interests, outlook and maturity.
Not everything has changed though. Alfie is still crazy about football and is still actively pursuing his dream of getting a place at Kingsway Academy. The mystical fortune teller Madame Zola has promised that his dream will come true one day, but her messages are often a bit cryptic, forcing Alfie to make his own decisions to fulfil his destiny. Being a twelve-year-old is complicated enough at the best of times, so Alfie has a lot on his plate, wondering what to do when he unexpectedly gets an offer at a football academy for a rival team. As usual, the book has some important life lessons for young readers, on and off the pitch - Alfie has to take into account the sacrifices that his parents will have to make if he accepts the place, realising that the world doesn't revolve around him. It also reinforces the notions that you should be true to yourself, trust your friends, not show off (pride comes before a fall) and, importantly, not to leave your phone lying around !
It's a book that can be enjoyed by readers of both sexes (although the main female character, Alfie's friend Chloe, seemed to be less present in this book) and will not only appeal to football fans. David Fuller's expertise and passion for football really come through (he's an FA-qualified football coach) and inject some real excitement into the soccer scenes, but the banter between the characters is what makes the books so appealing. The story is the continuation of the previous books, with appearances from characters who featured in earlier episodes, such as Alfie's former football coach and his enemy Jasper, but it can also be enjoyed as a stand-alone novel. I did think it came to a rather abrupt end though and would have loved an extra chapter or two, to savour the look on Jasper's face if nothing else !
You can also read my reviews of the previous books in the series :
Alfie Jones and an Uncertain Future
star rating : 4/5
star rating : 4/5
Disclosure : I received a copy of the book, in order to write an honest review.