Teachers Notes for Touch Me

 

 

 

 

 

 

A Novel for Young Adults by James Moloney

 

Winner, Victorian Premierís Award, 2001

Winner, Children Peace Literature Prize, 2001

Shortlisted CBCA Award for Older Readers, 2001

 

INTRODUCTION

Xavier McLachlan is in his final year at an all-boys school inBrisbane. As for most boys his age his mates and the idea of winning a First XV Jersey are the most important things in his life. But then Xavier meets Nuala McGee, a girl unlike any he has known before, and his world begins to change. A bad experience at her own school has caused Nuala to become wary of boys. To prevent them from making any unwelcome advances she takes to wearing the shapeless boysí school uniform and adopts a dismissive attitude in her actions and words. Yet, in spite of her odd behaviour, Xavier becomes increasingly attracted to Nuala and, with some degree of difficulty, they start his most important and intense relationship yet.

When Xavier invites Nuala to his school formal she is concerned by his intentions and refuses to go as she will be expected to wear a dress that she feels will draw unwanted attention, especially from the boys. With advice from his older sister, Felicity, Xavier allows Nuala to attend on her own terms and rents a suit for her. This action brings ridicule from most of his mates and causes Xavier to question the depth of their friendships. In the meantime he becomes increasingly close to Alex, a boy in his year whose experience with leukaemia forces Xavier to view the world differently. Xavier begins to question the winn-at-all-costs attitude that is prevalent amongst his peers and many of their mentors. Alexís sudden death forces Xavier to make some important decisions about himself, his values and his relationships with others.

This is a beautifully sensitive depiction of the struggles and issues faced by many students in the final years of school. James Moloneyís characters are well rounded and credible, enabling them to draw empathy from the reader. Many students will relate to the experiences and emotions of the central characters.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR



Born in Sydney, James Moloney grew up and was educated in Brisbane. He completed teacher training at Griffith University and also holds diplomas in Teacher Librarianship and Computer Education. He has taught in a number of Queensland State Schools as both a classroom teacher and a librarian. His experiences as a young teacher in western Queensland have had a profound effect on his writing, especially in his early novels.

James now writes full-time and has written over twenty books for children and Young Adults. His first novel, Crossfire was listed as a Notable Book in the CBCA awards in 1993. His short novel Swashbuckler won the Children's Book Council of Australia Book of the Year Award in 1996 and in the following year, A Bridge to Wiseman's Cove was named Book of the Year in the CBCA's Older Readers category. His other titles have appeared regularly on shortlists for literary prizes and children's choice awards ever since.

James says: 'I like to get inside the head of today's adolescents, to connect with the passion they have for life and understand what they care about. The challenge then is to express it in a story. That challenge keeps me young. I love it.'


THEMES

Touch Me contains many powerful and relevant themes, including:

  • Sport
  • Winning at all costs
  • Power and gossip
  • Sexism
  • Sexual stereotypes
  • Mateship/Friendship

SPORT

  • The novel uses sport as a metaphor for life. The novel itself is divided into 6 parts, the titles of which mirror the stages in the football season.
  • Xavierís room the top 2 shelves were crowded with trophies and medallions.
  • The boys are constantly told to Work harder. Youíve got to work harder.
  • When Xavier makes the First XV his emotion is one of relief rather than excitement.
  • At the party when Jacob was sober and a little restless. He wished Xave or Scott or even Luke was there so they could talk about the Loyola game.(p65)

Nuala has little understanding of Xavierís love of sport:

Masochist. Why do it if you donít enjoy it?

No-one likes training much. Not with this guy anyway. Heíd think he wasnít working us hard enough if we did.

Itís the game. When you win, itís the greatest thing.

And when you lose?

I hate losing.

So you love the game when you win and hate the game when you lose. Fickle lover arenít you?

The idea is to win every time. Then youíre always in love.

Iíve heard of love being a game but never a game being love. (p79)

Itís how much you want it.

You hesitate just for a moment, if you think about it too much, if you think about getting hurt, then the other guy beats you every time.(p95)

In what ways is the game of football shown to be a metaphor for love?

Nuala canít understand how Xavier feels when he is dropped from the First XV.

It was all a joke to Nuala. This was the first time in his life he had ever been dropped from any team, in any sport. It happened to other poor bastards every day.

You have to be a bloke to understand.(p152)

For Xavier, what are the implications of being dropped from the team?

Could a girl understand this situation?

What would be a comparable situation for Nuala?

Surprisingly, Xavier finds an ally in Brother Allbecker:

Itís like you have this idea of yourself. What youíre like. Who you are. And then suddenly someone strips away the outside and youíre different, not a bit like you thought you were.

If I couldnít play footy, Iíd be nothing, nobody.

Iíve met a lot of hard me in my time,. Some Iím proud to know, but a few of them I wouldnít turn a hose on if they caught fire. There are a hundred kinds of courage. Iíve never met anyone who had them all, but you donít look to me like you lack many.(p176)

In what ways is Xavier courageous?

Contrary to Xavierís fears, to what extent does he not start to become a Ďsomebodyí until he is dropped from the First XV?

WINNING AT ALL COSTS

  • The first time we meet the boys itís a competition in the gym to show off their physical prowess.
  • They are initially reluctant to play touch against the girls, fearing that it will slow things up a bit.
  • Xavier is sickened by the injury to Paul OíDonnell whose injury lets St Matthews win the game.
  • Scott wouldnít let her go on like this; heíd do something, say something. When he played games he had to win.(p219)
  • Itís a bloody war. Canít you see that? Thereís no prisoners, thereís no second place. Just winners and the rest.(p224)
  • Scottís physical attack on Kyle was pure animal rage.(p225)
  • When Xave plays golf with Alex and his father Mr Muray asks him Do you always try this hard? Itís a game. Youíre allowed to enjoy it.(p229)
  • Scott is overly rough on Kelly in the touch game.
  • Preston uses Alexís death in his pep talk, even though Alex didnít even like football.

Nuala asks Xave, So, to love the game properly you not only have to win, you have to play well yourself?

Yeah, thatís true, for me anyway. Some people donít care. Thereís an old expression. Any win is a good win. (p104)

Make a list of the Ďgood winsí and the Ďbad winsí illustrated in the novel and consider how the different characters react to each.

POWER

  • She was flying, exultant. She had performed again for the bystanders and found her reward in the uncertain faces of the boys and the laughter of the girls.(p17)
  • I thought maybe if I sent them up in front of everyone it would even the score a bit. But now I canít stop.(p134)
  • Nuala wonít let a boy ask her out.
  • She wonít give Xave her phone number or tell him where she lives.
  • Initially she speaks in riddles and tries to catch him out to the extent that Xave feels as though he has to pass a test every time I meet you. (p61)

In the novel both Nuala and Gavin and his mates engage in power plays as a form of revenge.

How does Nuala expect her behaviour to take revenge on the boys?

Why do the boys make and spread mock-up photos of Nuala?

Does either group win as a result of their behaviour?

Gossip can also provide another means of obtaining power. By spreading rumours about people we are able to manipulate the way in which others view them and the way in which they are treated.

Gossip plays a big part in Touch Me. The photos of Nuala and the story about her behaviour are all gossip, as is her rumoured pregnancy.

What effect does gossip have in the novel?

How can gossip affect our own lives and our friendships?

SEXISM

The boys are distracted when the girls play touch in singlet tops and bike pants.

Youíre supposed to touch, not grope me.

He could have tapped her on the back or the thigh, but instead he reached around, brushing his hand across her stomach to start with, then sliding over the point of her hip.

Watch the hands.

This is touch football. What else am I going to use?

Itís where you put them. (p30)

Throughout the novel how are boys shown to act towards the girls? In what ways are Alexís and Xavierís behaviour different?

SEXUAL STEREOTYPES

  • Xavier is embarrassed at having won the ANZAC Day Essay Competition, especially when his teacher tells him that he has a real talent for self expression.(p32)
  • Instead of congratulating him on his achievement, his mates ridicule him. Youíre in the wrong subjects mate. Should be doing art and music and stuff.(p32)
  • Alex Murray is very different from the other boys.
  • The guy didnít play any sport. That was hard to understand, because you had to have fun sometime, get to know a few people. But not Alex Murray. As far as they could see, he preferred his books and his own company. Good luck to him.(p20)
  • Before he meets Nuala, Xavier has never been to a play.
  • The younger boys in the school clearly idolize the members of the First XV.

Which boys usually assume the highest status within a school? What values or skills are regarded most highly? What behaiours would be accepted and what behaviours frowned upon?

When Nuala fails to fit in to the normal female stereotype, she is immediately labelled a dyke and a lesbian.

What behaviours or attitudes do we expect from girls? Which girls usually assume the highest status? Is there a female equivalent of the First XV?

Nuala is convinced that her essay is better than Xavierís. I suppose a place like the RSL as happier if a boy takes out first prize. It was supposed to be about war after all and thatís mostly a boyís game.(p36)

Is there some degree of truth in this statement?

Schools are particularly notorious for encouraging gender stereotypes. Consider the following:

  • Have the boys been harassing you?

Some boys have said a few things. Honestly I donít take any notice. It happens everywhere.(p44)

  • Why would you ask for my number if you werenít planning to call?

Maybe I wanted to act like a boy.(p56)

  • I suppose you like action movies about the end of the world.(p56)

  • Typical boy, she said. Chase anything in a skirt.(p88)

What are our expectations of Boys? Girls?

Make a list of the behaviours in the novel that reinforce these gender stereotypes and those that contradict them.

Nuala is angered by Xavier coming to her rescue on the platform.

They could have hurt you.

And it was your job to stop them, right? Boys start fights, boys stop fights. I can take care of myself. (p48)

Nuala will only go out with boys if she asks them out.

Consider how the rules of dating and chivalry have changed. Is it acceptable for a girl to ask a boy out? Who should pay on a date? Should a boy defend a girl in a fight? Should he open the door for her? Do you think dating in the C21st is harder than it used to be?

MATESHIP / FRIENDSHIP

Xavier tries to explain his predicament to Nuala.

Thereís rumours going around that youíre a boy and Iím bent.

Ooo, rumours. Nasty things. Could wreck your whole life.

Donít do this to me, please. I feel like Iím fading away. If guys donít respect you youíre nothing. You canít even respect yourself.(p164)

To what extent is this true? Whilst males tend to be less emotional than women, what roles does mateship play?

  • Oh, go on Xave. be brave. Live on the wild side a little. Youíve got mates havenít you?

I donít know any more, Fee. I didnít think there was a thing in the world that I was afraid of, but lately it feels like the rug has been pulled out from under me.

I feel like Iím losing myself. That Iím a different person. If I took Nuala to the formal like that, it would be like crossing some sort of line.

Crossing the line is how you win the game, isnít it.

In footy it is. But this is different. This is so much harder.(p170)

  • Iím sorry Xave. I never understood how tough it would be for you. I was just thinking about me. I figured a few boys would blow up, but I didnít think your mates would have a go at you like that.

Theyíre not my mates.(p187)

  • Itís mates when itís football, always mates when thereís some kind of enemy, but where were my mates at the formal? I needed you that night but you walked away.(p305)

Are Xavierís mates real friends?

Consider the notion that it is not until Xavier lets go of his mates that he is able to be true to both himself and to Nuala.

When Brother Allbecker talks to the class about death and dying no-one other than Alex contributes. When he leaves the room the traditional friendship groups form and the conversation goes back to being about football, Saturday night and girls.

When Xave goes across to Brian and Alex Brian immediately talks to Xave about football. Xavier is disappointed as he wants to participate in a real conversation. (p113)

Why canít Xavier ever seem to have a Ďrealí conversation with his footy mates?

Xavier has a very different relationship with Alex who is much softer and gentler than the other boys.

Xavier found himself smiling, glad that he could tell someone who was interested instead of disapproving.(p80)

When Xave decides not to go to the formal he knew that he would have to tell his mates soon, but when Alex Murray turned up it seemed easier to tell him first.(p179)

In what ways is Alex a better friend to Xavier than his mates?

After Xavier goes to the play, it was still very much on Xavierís mind and he wanted to talk about it, but here were his mates and he was hardly going to fob them off. (p128)

Mateship is a celebrated Australian characteristic. Can it ever be a bad thing?

Are mateship and friendship necessarily the same thing?


Much less is revealed about female friendships, but there are some insights, such as this.

Ö some of the girls were hoping Nuala would come down with a crash, and when the first pictures went around the school the girls were laughing more than the boys. But when it got nasty that was different.(p100)

Why would the girls have initially been pleased that Nuala was being ridiculed?

Do girlsí friendships work in a similar way to those of boys?

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