The F Team cover

Shortlist year: 2021

Shortlist category: Young adult literature

Published by: Giramondo Publishing

Meet Tariq Nader, leader of 'The Wolf Pack' at Punchbowl High, who has been commanded by the new principal to join a football competition with his mates in order to rehabilitate the public image of their school. When the team is formed, Tariq learns there's a major catch—half of the team is made up of white boys from Cronulla, aka enemy territory—and he must compete with their strongest player for captaincy of the team.

At school Tariq thinks he has life all figured out until he falls for a new girl called Jamila, who challenges everything he thought he knew. At home, his outspoken ways have brought him into conflict with his family. Now, with complications on all fronts, he has to dig deep to control his anger, and find what it takes to be a leader.

In confronting and often hilarious situations, Tariq's relationships with his extended Lebanese family and his friends are tested like never before, and he comes to learn that his choices can have serious consequences.

About the author

Rawah Arja

Rawah Arja

Rawah Arja is a writer and teacher from Western Sydney. Her writing has featured in Arab, Australian, Other, SBS Voices and at the Sydney Writer's Festival. She has received a fellowship from WestWords Varuna Emerging Writers' Residential Program, is a member of the Finishing School collective of women writers, and teaches creative writing at schools and workshops.

Judges’ comments

Smart, cocky Tariq Nader is sure of his place in his large, lively family and within Punchbowl's tight-knit Lebanese community. He is also the leader of The Wolf Pack, four boys who comfortably fit the threatening Arab hothead stereotype of the western world. Tariq and boys like him exist on the fringes of mainstream Australia and only make an appearance when their beloved school, Punchbowl High, is featured on the national news for student violence. With the arrival of new principal Mr Archie, however, Tariq is pushed outside his comfort zone and into the fold of Cronulla's Anglo-Australian society, where he must compete on and off the football field to transcend his anger and his own prejudices, and give himself permission to carve a life beyond the limitations of societal stereotypes.

Tariq's voice is raw, intelligent and strikingly honest. 'Do you know what it feels like to wake up and read the stories in the news about how there's no future for boys like us … how little parts of us believe them when they say we're nothing?' he says at one point, exposing his vulnerability. Arwa's characters are unique, flawed and authentic. Take loyal and selfless Uncle Charlie who lives in a shed in Tariq's backyard and covers his grey hairs with his niece's mascara, or eight-year-old 'Bob the Builder' Amira who is sharp, wise and dresses like a tradie. Rawah's characters peel back the many layers of Australian society and bares our flaws, our strengths and our heart on the page. They humanise people from marginalised communities who are not widely represented in young adult literature yet make up an important part of the cultural landscape of modern Australia.

'The F Team' is a powerful, relevant and timely book that questions what it means to be a man, what it means to be human and what it means to be Australian.