Paul Kennedy's Funkytown takes in football, city-edge adolescence and lost innocence

Paul Kennedy, finding his way. Picture: Joanne Quinn
Paul Kennedy, finding his way. Picture: Joanne Quinn
  • Funkytown, by Paul Kennedy. Affirm Press, $32.99.

There is a kind of unwritten formula for books, whether fictional stories or accounts of the lives of real people. The central character is shown to have difficulties which must be overcome, perhaps against great odds. As the narrative progresses, that person has slow success until at the end, the problems have been solved and the character is seen in a good light. Applies as much to a Lee Child novel as to a political biography.

With Funkytown, ABC journalist Paul Kennedy turns that formula on its head. It is 1993 and he is a 17-year- old in his final year of school, full of life and energy, a gifted sportsman with lots of friends.

As the story progresses, we gradually see a different side to him, until as the book nears its end, we have lost all sympathy and in fact begin to wish that he may get his comeuppance.

While many books show a villain become a hero, in this case the hero becomes a villain: the heroes are his long-suffering parents, his siblings and his teachers. Of course, this is a tribute to the careful way the story is written and the author's slow progress in getting his reader to dislike him.

Though he tries to explain what it was like to be a teenager in the outer edge of a big city, at no stage does he attempt to excuse his conduct.

At times, his honesty and self-criticism are almost painful, all the more so because it is not his nature and certainly not his upbringing. The book finishes long before his time with the ABC.

PK was a gifted footballer with good adult role models and excellent coaches. His ambition was to be drafted to an AFL team and although he played two games with the St Kilda reserves, by the time he got to show his stuff, he was suffering from the effects of many long weekends of carousing.

It never occurred to this reviewer that, when a teacher in a school where football was big, his senior students might have been sitting in his class on a Monday morning after the kinds of weekend roistering described here. In the end, things were so bad that PK was expelled from his school and had to sit his VCE in another school.

The other story covered in the book is the murder of two schoolgirls and a 22-year-old woman by a serial killer in the Frankston area in the middle of PK's final year of school.

The killer's name is not given in the book, a small tribute to the families of the dead girls who are trying to have his release in 2023 stopped, an action which is supported by the author.

At times annoying, but always honest, the question is whether this book should be required reading for parents of teenagers or whether it would be better for their comfort to have it hidden out of sight.

This story A hero-to-villain school memoir of lost innocence first appeared on The Canberra Times.