Alternative Teachers Notes for Touch Me







A novel for teenagers by James Moloney

A new novel by the author of A Bridge to Wiseman's Cove, Bold, edgy, compassionate. Vivid characters and dialogue. Moloney gets better all the time.
Agnes Nieuwenhuizen, Centre for Youth Literature, State Library of Victoria

The story:

Xavier McLachlan is in his final year of school at St. Matthew's College and all his energy is focused on becoming a member of the First XV. Xavier has played Rugby since he was seven year old and has always been in the 'A' team — he may even have made the Firsts last year if he hadn't broken his collar bone in the last of the pre-season trials! However, the outside world intrudes on even the most dedicated of players and Xave becomes infatuated with a girl from the local high school: a most unusual girl who wears baggy pants, an oversized blazer, walks like a boy and has an attitude problem. Nuala McGee has the face of an angel, and Xave is sure that under those obscene clothes, the body of a goddess. He also becomes friends with Alex, a boy new to his class, who dropped out of school the year before to undergo treatment for leukemia, and who is now repeating his final year.

From his straightforward life Xave plunges into all sorts of complications and confusions: he hates the methods introduced into training sessions by the new coach, and the new coach has his doubts about Xave's commitment to winning, Nuala is enticing but difficult to understand, and there are nasty rumours about her. His friends, with the exception of Alex, loathe her.

The kernel of the story is Xave's patient courting of Nuala and the up and down nature of their relationship; the turmoil surrounding his Rugby career and the terrible event of Alex's death while playing touch football with Xave and his friends.


The novel has numerous themes. It should be noted however that the raising of various issues does not intrude on the story line, rather unpins and gives it substance. As Moira Robinson says in her review of Touch Me (Magpies Vol, 15, No. 2), '…this is a strong story which keeps one constantly on the edge of one's seat, a story full of surprises right to the very end.'
• Winning at all cost.
The coach, Mr Preston, and, following his example and presumably his father's, Scott Watson's acceptance that they do anything in order to win the premiership. Scott even goes as far as to deliberately foul and injure an opposing team member when it looks as if St Matt's might lose a match. This attitude intrudes into Scott's behaviour off the field. Annoyed at being beaten in a play during a scratch game of touch football by his girlfriend, he tackles her, sweeping her off her feet and then drops her on the ground. The fact that, as Kelly says, 'What the hell were you doing? You could have killed me', is secondary to his inability to accept that he can lose a game.
• The end justifies the means.
Mr Preston uses the fact of Alex's death as a rallying point for the team on the eve of their final match. Xavier questions his right to do so. Previously in trials and practice Mr Preston uses each boy's hunger to be in the team to pit them against one other in a bestial game of winner takes all.
• Peer pressure.
Implicit throughout the novel is the way in which peer groups function within the school situation. Jocks are at the top of the heap, kept there by younger boys' adulation and an ethic that admires sporting prowess over academic achievement.
• Male/female relationships.
Xavier and Nuala's relationship is one based on respect. Nuala insists on equal billing (at times it looks as if she wants top billing) and Xavier has enough of an independent turn of mind to allow her, and their relationship, to develop beyond the stereotypical girl-boy infatuation based on sexual desire. Not that Xavier doesn't want a sexual relationship, but his delight in Nuala's intelligence and hers in his is the basis of their friendship.
• Betrayal of trust.
Nuala is betrayed by Gavin, the boy she became involved with when she first attended Lawson High. Having had enough of her, he attempts to pass her on to one of his friends.
• Revenge.
Gavin and his friends made a concerted effort to slander Nuala far beyond what one would expect in the situation initially because of the public manner of Nuala's break with Gavin and then because she fought back and ridiculed him and his mates. It should be noted that Nuala is not without sin in this instance — her mimicry of the boys is a form of revenge.
• Friendships and what they involve.
Xave is shattered by the lack of support by his mates when he takes Nuala, wearing tails, to the school formal. He had counted on them to accept her on his behalf, not to suggest that she is a lesbian and he, by association, a homosexual.
• Homophobia.
The question of homophobia is raised a number of times within the book. Xavier's dad is worried about it after his younger sister has a go at him in front of the family claiming Nuala is a boy in disguise (p,123-124) and Xavier is met at the formal by Brett and Kris telling him: "You know what it looks like, don't you Xave? You bring some queer lesbian in a fucking suit to the formal and you know what it says. That you're a faggot yourself, mate. That's what it says." (p.147)
• Death.
Alex's death on the field during a game of touch football is a great shock in itself but becomes a burden of guilt to Xavier who thinks he is responsible. It was he who insisted that Alex, not only join in the game, but try harder. This takes us to the issue of whether or not games are to be played for fun or solely for winning. A question Brother Allbecker hints at when he talks to Xave after finding him half-way up the climbing wall at school.
• The proper conduct of intimate relationships.
Gavin and Nuala. Nuala and Xavier. The need for trust and mutual support.
• Responsibilities
Xave is tempted by Scott to try and take the easy way out of the problem of Nuala being pregnant. The fact that she is not does not diminish the ethical position of taking responsibility for one's actions.

The themes inherent in the book are of concern to young people. Run a series of debates on the various themes, making sure that the teams do not divide into gender-based opposition groups and each topic has representatives of both sexes on either side of the debate. Ask students to draw on the novel for examples to support their positions. Suggested topics for debate:
• The end justifies the means.
• A friend in need is a friend indeed.
• Love involves understanding and acceptance.
• he that filches from me my good name Robs me of that which not enriches him; and makes me poor indeed (Shakespeare, Othello Act 3, scene 3, 1.155)
• Will you respect me in the morning?

Students may care to suggest additional topics.
Read the quotation from Sheryl Crow, 'Strong Enough' that precedes the contents page and discuss the significance of it to the novel as a whole, and to relationships in general.


The novel is arranged in a chronological sequence of events alternating between Rugby and Nuala. The two are bridged by Nuala's metaphor of Rugby as a lover and jealous mistress, which in turn echoes the larger metaphor within the book of Rugby as life. The ending is ambiguous leaving the reader to interpret the on-going, if any, nature of the relationship between Nuala and Xavier.


The language is of the everyday, reflecting the age group and the school situation. Moloney displays a sensitive ear for the speech patterns and vocabulary of his characters.
The novel is written in the third person. The overriding point of view is that of omnipotent author but the narration allows for both Xavier and Nuala to move in and out of limited points of view. Of course the prologue belongs to Nuala although it is not specified at the time.


The story of Joan of Arc is a thread running through the book.
The first glimpse Xavier has of Nuala as a 'normal' girl is in a photograph in a newspaper report of her playing the female lead in Shaw's Saint Joan, and this immediately takes the reader back to the prologue where the then unknown protagonist of that piece tells herself "Shouldn't she know by now what they did to witches". Xavier later makes the connection between Nuala and Joan of Arc both wearing men's clothes as armour, and Nuala speaking to Xavier uses the phrase 'you are the pick of the basket here' leaving unsaid the remainder of the line in Shaw's play: 'the only friend I have among all these nobles' (Scene 5 speaking to Dunois the Bastard of Orlean). Nuala draws the allusion even tighter when she asks Xavier "You won't burn me at the stake will you, Xave? I've had enough of being a martyr?"
Teachers might like to discuss a similarity with another play when, at the formal, Xavier appeals to the boys in a bid to get one of them to ask Nuala for a dance:
Forget the suit. Look at Nuala's face, he told them and he put his arms around her. "it's a beautiful face." But he could not keep offering her around like this.
In the musical Cabaret, (based on Christopher Isherwood's play I Am a Camera) one character sings a song "If you could only see her as I do" ending with the punch line "you wouldn't think she's Jewish at all". The play is set in Germany at the time of the rise of the Nazi party. The allusion to persecution because of difference can easily be read into Xavier and Nuala's situation at the formal.
Given Nuala's acting ambitions and ability the allusions to published plays is a neat device.

• Read Shaw's prologue to Saint Joan and discuss Shaw's perceptions of the historical Joan with those of the reader's about Nuala. They might find much in common (in addition to their both being of a similar age). Discuss character and action:
She is the most noted Warrior saint in the Christian calendar, and the queerest fish among the eccentric worthies of the Middle Ages. She refused to accept the specific woman's lot, and dressed and fought and lived as men did. As she contrived to assert herself in all these ways with such force that she was famous throughout western Europe before she was out of her teens (indeed she never got out of them), it is hardly surprising that she was judicially burnt, ostensibly for a number of capital crimes which we no longer punish as such, but essentially for what we call unwomanly and insufferable presumption.
(From the preface to Saint Joan)

Xavier is a wonderful example of a young man on the verge of adulthood; certainties are wavering and his horizons broadening. Rugby stands as a metaphor for his changing attitudes to life. He desperately still wants to be in the First XV but realises that he is not prepared to compromise his newly honed sense of what is right, nor is he prepared to blindly accept the mores of his group. Xavier is an engaging character as he moves from tunnelled vision to question the ways in which friends, teachers and family act. Like Nuala we do think him 'the pick of the basket'.

Nuala is a complex character. Self-opinionated, abrasive, prickly, holier-than-thou, vulnerable, self-loathing, self-possessed, intolerant, are all descriptions that leap to mind. She is an actor, and with the intensity of her focus on self, seems destined to become a success. She is also beautiful, vivacious, intelligent and exciting to be with. One is never quite sure with Nuala as to when she is acting.

Minor characters:
We see the remaining characters through their interaction with Xavier or within their group. In a manner of speaking they exist to provide a mirror for Xavier, or to express a particular attitude:
• Coach Preston, the flawed adult with an eye to his own tenure;
• Scott becoming increasingly corrupted through the novel to become a symbol of unthinking male pride;
• Jacob, the staunch friend, easy going but slow to change his attitudes;
• Luke, the hanger-on, tolerated but not given the status of close friend;
• Alex, the new way of thinking;
• Brother Allbecker, the wise elder.
• Xavier's sister, Felicity, is a finely drawn example of a sibling taking an interest in and supporting Xavier but concentrating, as she would in real life, on her own life.
Although these are stock characters they each develop a recognisable personality and by the end of the novel the reader is as equally at home with them as with Xavier.

Questions for discussion:
• The title can be interpreted in two ways. 'Touch Me' in a physical sense and 'Touch Me' in an emotional sense. Which is the correct interpretation and why?
• What is Xavier doing when he hires the tails for Nuala and takes her to the dance? Do members of the class think he did the right thing? Why or why not?
• What is the significance of Xavier purchasing the blue dress for Nuala?
• Is Scott's father unusual in his aggressive support of the school Rugby team?
• Alex and his father are surprised at Xavier's insistence on trying hard all the time at sport. Are they right to be surprised? Is it correct to say that sport is just a game after all?
• How accurate is the author's description of the party where Jacob learns about Nuala? pp.51-54.

Writing exercises:
• Write entries in the School Year Book for the boys from St Matthew's.
• Write a newspaper report on one of the Rugby matches played by St. Matthew's.
• From the point of view of the interviewer write up an interview with Nuala for a position at NIDA.
• Write a piece for the school magazine on the retirement of Brother Allbrecker.
• Write and deliver a eulogy for Alex.

• Play Nuala's, Alex's and Xave's game of collectives choosing a school assembly, sporting event, or any other occasion the students may care to suggest as a starting point. A good introduction to collectives is An Exaltation of Larks by James Lipton (Penguin)
• Girls: choose a boy from St Matthew's and list all the reasons you can think of as to why you might like to go out with that boy.
• Boys: write down the reasons why you might or might not like to go out with Nuala.
• Do not write your names on your list. Fold and place all the lists in two separate boxes, one for the girls' responses, one for the boys'. Form groups of six (3 boys, 3 girls) and draw six 'lists', three from each of the boxes.
• Read and discuss.


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