The Dream Team: Jaz Santos vs. The World by Priscilla Mante | Children’s Fiction | Puffin | 352 pages | Review by Firqin Sumartono
The Dream Team: Jaz Santos vs. The World is Priscilla Mante’s debut. The first instalment in a new series, “The Dream Team,” is centred around football and addressing issues like friendship, families, and sexism. This children’s book is a realistic, funny, inclusive, and empowering story. Mante tackles difficult emotions and serious issues like family problems and sexism in simple, relatable situations for children.
In the first of the series, we meet Jaz, the book’s protagonist. Jaz is in year 6, loves football, and is from Bramrock, a town 30 minutes away from Brighton. She often finds herself in trouble and blames herself for the painful experiences she faces. The novel begins with Jaz feeling helpless with the direction of her life: she gets kicked out of the dance club, gets bullied by the VIP (Very Irritating People), and gets rejected from the school’s football team because she is a girl. On top of the stress she faces at school, Jaz’s private life is equally tumultuous. Her parents fight and bicker constantly, her house catches on fire, and her mother moves out.
Faced with all these problems, Jaz finds solace and comfort in putting her energy into football, the place where she can forget about her problems. Jaz also places idealistic hopes that her successes in football will mend her broken family.
Jaz Santos vs. the Patriarchy
Determined and relentless, Jaz is a role model protagonist. Knowing that the society we live in today is patriarchal, Mante makes certain that Jaz’s life is contextualised and cleverly provides specific examples of how sexism is institutionalised. For example, there is zero funding and resources for the girl’s football team because all the money is invested in the boys’ team. By clearly listing the financial barriers girls and women face, Mante paints a realistic world and provides relatable solutions. Jaz self-organises and seeks advice from older women in the community, who offered to raise funds for transport, find second-hand football jerseys for the team, and an unpaid football coach. What began as Jaz’s dreams eventually grows into goals shared by every team member. By presenting complex concepts like mutual aid and self-organisation in much simpler terms that are relatable to children, Mante highlights the importance of community in a world that attempts to deny women and girls opportunities.
The Importance of Representation
A scene that stands out in the book is when Jaz and her teammates strategise and set goals for what they hope their team will eventually become. They rattle off the numerous names of female footballers they find inspirational. This scene highlights the importance of representation in helping young girls dream big and change the ingrained limitations we unconsciously place on ourselves.
Not Just a Story About Beating the Odds
Jaz Santos vs. The World is not just a story about overcoming the odds or dreaming big. It is also about learning to self-regulate emotionally and navigating traumatic situations, like your family breaking up. Jaz’s fractured home was a critical aspect of the plot. Although her parents tried to hide their discord from her, she, like all children, is observant and sensitive to the cracking foundations of her family. We find her blaming herself for the troubles at home and feeling responsible for some adults’ incompetence. Jaz’s worries and emotional stress are primarily due to the lack of transparency from her parents about their problems in an attempt to protect Jaz. Ironically, the mature characters in the novel are the children who are clear communicators and supportive of each other. This dynamic resembles the current world we live in, in which children and young adults are sometimes more mature in handling conflicts and accepting accountability than adults.
An Important Message for Children and Adults
The Dream Team: Jaz Santos vs. The World is witty, filled with wisdom, and inspirational. While the book was written for children ages eight and up, there are many gems or quotes that I, an adult woman, needed to be reminded of. I related to many of Jaz’s worries, like the nagging feeling we’re not good enough or that we are responsible for other peoples’ emotions. Ultimately, Jaz’s story is about structural injustices and written for girls who worry that they will be judged not for their talent and hard work but for who they are. It is an important message for all of us: to believe in our excellence and undeniable talent even when the systems in which we work to be accepted continuously attempt to deny and refuse us.