Racing the Moon

Written by Michelle Morgan

It’s 1931 and Joe Riley, ‘on the wrong side of thirteen’, lives in Sydney, Australia. It’s the Depression, and Joe has a thriving business illegally selling eggs, which his father says isn’t a crime if you don’t get caught. His dad should know; his illegal bookmaking business has taken off, and now they have enough money saved to send Joe off to St Bartholomew’s, a Catholic boarding school. Things do not go well. Joe is selected by Brother Felix as one of his ‘favourites’ and when he sits on Joe’s bed in the dark one night, stroking his face and more, Joe punches him. For breaking his nose and telling ‘defamatory lies’ Joe is expelled and sent to reform school – a farm on the south coast run by Irish nuns. I loved the descriptions of life on the farm, the tough love of the nuns, and the positive effect it has on Joe despite, or perhaps because of, the physical challenges.

Racing the Moon is full of boyhood exploits that kids will enjoy. The short chapters and simple, direct language make it a quick and easy to read. However it also touches on the darker side of life, including bullying, domestic violence and sexual abuse. These subjects are handled with subtlety and could prompt some important discussion for children aged 13 plus. Although many young people do face these issues, some parents may prefer to wait until their children are older before including these dark realities in their recreational reading.

Perhaps the most poignant moment was when Joe talks to his friend about the war, and I realised that, only eight years later, these kids would be young men fighting in World War Two. I would recommend it as a great book for teenagers studying Australian history.