Title: Kick The Moon
Author: Muhammad Khan
Publisher: Macmillan Children’s Books
Publication Date: January 24th 2019
Rating: 🌟 🌟
Fifteen-year-old Ilyas is under pressure from everyone: GCSE’s are looming and his teachers just won’t let up, his dad wants him to join the family business and his mates don’t care about any of it. There’s no space in Ilyas’ life to just be a teenager.
Serving detention one day, Ilyas finds a kindred spirit in Kelly Matthews, who is fed up with being pigeonholed as the good girl, and their friendship blows the social strata of high school wide open. But when Kelly catches the eye of one of the local bad boys, Imran, he decides to seduce her for a bet – and Ilyas is faced with losing the only person who understands him. Standing up to Imran puts Ilyas’ family at risk, but it’s time for him to be the superhero he draws in his comic-books, and go kick the moon.
Thank you to the publisher and NetGalley for providing me with an advanced reading copy in exchange for an honest review!
Trigger warning for sexual assault and harassment.
For the most part, I thought the premise of Kick The Moon was incredibly promising – a narrative that explores the themes of racism, sexism, gang culture, misogyny, toxic masculinity, friendships, peer pressure and bullying through the eyes of fifteen-year-old comic book enthusiast Ilyas Mian, who is also bearing the weight of a dozen different expectations on his shoulders. From Superman to PakCore and Big Bad Waf, Ilyas’ passion for creating comics and his fight to make brown superheroes the norm was an aspect I really enjoyed. Unfortunately, it was also the only aspect that I enjoyed.
The novel was a fairly easy read from start to finish yet, at the same time, the language – which is majority slang – was exhausting. I can’t think of any other way to describe it, and I don’t know what the current linguistic landscape of a South London school sounds like but I can’t imagine it sounding anything like this. I really enjoyed the way the author incorporated slang into his debut novel, I Am Thunder, but it felt incredibly overdone here to the point where almost everything about the book – from the characters to their relationships and the story – felt inauthentic and unrealistic.
The majority of the characters in this novel also play to a lot of stereotypes, which I believe was an intentional choice but essentially made them appear to be flat. They were either angelically good or the spawn of Satan with no room for anyone to fall somewhere in between. Ilyas’ sister Shaista seemed far too immature to be older than Ilyas, and I found it incredibly disturbing when she chose to blackmail him with a certain video, or that she even recorded it in the first place.
On the opposite end of the spectrum, Imran seemed far too mature to be the same age as Ilyas and I found it really hard to believe that a fifteen-year-old could have the entire school bow down and worship him simply because he’s attractive. Imran, as a character, was the epitome of toxic masculinity. Whilst there is no redemption arc for Imran, much like in real-life, it was uplifting to see Ilyas eventually standing his ground by confronting Imran and calling him out for his toxic behaviour, but not without dealing with all the setbacks and challenges. It takes a great deal of strength, determination and courage to come face-to-face with your bullies, and I think the book did exceptionally well in capturing that.
Imran, however, wasn’t the only awful character in the novel. The majority of the teachers at the school seemed to be horrible towards the students for no actual reason, which was also incredibly hard to believe – are you seeing the pattern here? Of course, we all had those teachers at school who never seemed to smile for anyone, but there was literally only one decent teacher – Ms Mughal – whose class also happened to contain the only nice students at the school. Even though Muhammad Khan notes how he draws on his own experience as a teacher to inform his writing, I would hate to think Stanley Park is an accurate representation of what state schools in Britain – particularly in South London – are like right now.
Overall, Kick The Moon was stereotypical, predictable and often highly exaggerated, trying to do far too much in the short space that it has. Despite my dislike for the characters, the cultural, religious and diverse representation are commendable, subtle in a way that never feels like it’s forced. I had high expectations but was ultimately let down in more ways than one with a story that felt both hard to believe and largely unfinished.