The Penalty

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As the city of San Juan pulses to summer's sluggish beat, its teenage soccer prodigy, El Brujito, the Little Magician, vanishes without a trace - right after he misses a penalty kick and loses a big game for his team. Paul Faustino, South America's top sports reporter, is reluctantly drawn into the mystery of the athlete's disappearance. As a story of corruption and murder unfolds, Faustino is forced to confront the bitter history of slavery and the power of the occult. A deftly woven mystery flush with soccer ...

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As the city of San Juan pulses to summer's sluggish beat, its teenage soccer prodigy, El Brujito, the Little Magician, vanishes without a trace - right after he misses a penalty kick and loses a big game for his team. Paul Faustino, South America's top sports reporter, is reluctantly drawn into the mystery of the athlete's disappearance. As a story of corruption and murder unfolds, Faustino is forced to confront the bitter history of slavery and the power of the occult. A deftly woven mystery flush with soccer and suspense, this gripping novel is one that shouldn't be missed.

From the award-winning author of TAMAR, a time-shifting thriller about a vanishing soccer star, occult secrets, and the dark history of slavery.

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Editorial Reviews

Children's Literature
AGERANGE: Ages 10 up.

Soccer and suspense are combined in this intriguing story set in San Juan. Elements of the supernatural and the occult add to the intense drama. Ricardo de Barros is a teenaged professional soccer player who faithfully believes that ancient spirits guide and judge him. When de Barros mysteriously disappears after missing a penalty shot at an important game, the sports community is perplexed. Members of the small community where de Barros grew up, however, suspect that supernatural forces may be responsible. South America's leading sports writer, Paul Faustino, unwillingly becomes involved in uncovering the truth, and the truth consists of greed, corruption, and rituals that stem from South America's history of slavery abuse. Maco is one of the names given to a misused young slave who survives numerous cruelties and grows into a respected man whose strengths and powers are revered centuries later. Faustino is skeptical at first, but it appears that Maco may have played a significant part in the young soccer star's strange disappearance. Mal Peet is a talented author who unravels a captivating tale that brings South American history into the 21st century. Reviewer: Denise Daley

Children's Literature - Jeanna Sciarrotta
A soccer sensation, known as El Brujito, vanishes one day after an upsetting loss in San Juan. No one seems to know where he could have gone or what happened to him, and even more mysteriously, the police do not seem to be looking. Enter Paul Faustino, an accredited sports writer who happens to be in San Juan researching his new book. Without any intention of getting involved in the story, Faustino finds himself literally drugged into the past as he discovers that El Brujito's disappearance is tied to centuries of bitter history, slavery, and corruption. The story is told through both past and present lenses as it gives the reader small glimpses into the past and the story of a young slave who transformed into the Pai, a religious leader and protector of his people. The story, however, does not alternate frequently enough, which adds certain confusion to the plot. There are many elements of The Penalty that readers will enjoy, including the ending where it all somewhat comes together, but it lacks an overall cohesiveness between the two plotlines. Reviewer: Jeanna Sciarrotta
School Library Journal

Gr 10 Up Eighteen-year-old Ricardo Gomes de Barros's extraordinary soccer skills have garnered him fame, but his disappearance after a critical game leads sportswriter Paul Faustino to investigate. When Faustino asks too many questions, he is kidnapped and taken into the rural countryside where Barros grew up; there he learns of the ancestor worship and "Veneration" that the displaced slaves brought with them to the New World. The narrative is divided between Paracleto, a Loma slave of the 1700s who has come to be thought of as a god, and Faustino. Peet uses Paracleto's voice to expound some vital information, but the divided narrative detracts from the modern-day mystery and reduces the cohesiveness of the work as a whole. The lack of background information leaves questions about ancestor worship and other religious traditions among displaced Africans. Similar to Tamora Pierce's "Immortals" quartet (S & S), Peet's god characters appear, provide cryptic insight, and fade back out; however, they are the most interesting characters in the book. The way in which Faustino eventually discovers Barros reduces the mysterious element of the story to a mere side note in the plot, which had previously suffered from a lack of suspense. Between the disjointed narrative and unappealing characters, this novel will have difficulty attracting readers, and should be a strictly supplemental purchase.-Chris Shoemaker, New York Public Library

From the Publisher
"I can't begin to describe how terrific this book is. . . . A glorious, cartwheeling, magical, frightening story. . . . Peet uses the fact that soccer players are known to be superstitious — and that great soccer players can appear to be supernatural — to explore ideas of faith, luck, and corruption. But in doing that, he has somehow caught more of the magic and atmosphere of soccer than other, more straightforwardly descriptive writers." — Frank Cottrell Boyce, THE GUARDIAN
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9781844280995
  • Publisher: Gardners Books
  • Publication date: 10/2/2006

Meet the Author

Mal Peet is the author of the Carnegie Medal-winning novel TAMAR, as well the three novels starring reporter Paul Faustino. He lives in Devon, England.
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Read an Excerpt


You would think the boy is alone, but he is not. Facing him is the Brazilian defense. That plastic beer crate is Michel. The little heap of stones is Luisao, who today is holding the center. The almost-leafless sapling that grows magically out of nothing is the magisterial Cafu. The ancient bicycle frame propped up with bricks is Maicon, whose ferocious tackling is legendary. Beyond them, between the two thin timbers the boy has somehow uprighted in the hard earth, lurks the goalkeeper, Rubinho. He will be substituted for Cesar at halftime, but that will make no difference. The boy knows he can beat them both. He can drive the ball in a powerful curve that will take it a finger’s breadth inside the post. He can send in a long-distance shot that seems destined to fly over the invisible bar but that will dip horribly at the last possible moment. He can do these things, and more, but often does not bother. He is less interested in the final shot than in the move that leads up to it. In the beauty of the move, in its speed and complexity.

And the boy is not alone, because — as always — his head is full of spirits with whom he talks and in whom he confides.

Nor is he lonely. He practices in solitude because the other boys are not as good as he is. Their failure to understand what he intends to do frustrates him. They are slow to read the game. They fail to predict what the Brazilians will do. And they are not serious. They want only to score goals so that they can celebrate with their ridiculous gymnastics, reveling in the silent roar of eighty thousand imaginary spectators.

The ball the boy bounces from knee to knee is old, cheap, and scuffed. In places the plastic coating is peeling away. He knows that soon, somehow, he will have to get another one. But in the meantime, the sad condition of the ball makes the game a little more unpredictable, and he likes that.

The boy’s field is a large patch of bare, uneven ground where once, long ago, a church stood. He has set up the goal where the altar used to be, although he does not know this. Since the destruction of the church, nothing has been built here because the place is considered unlucky. He is aware of this, feels the wrongness that lingers in the air, but he welcomes it because bad luck is part of any game. It is something else to test himself against.

He catches the ball on his instep, holds it there for five seconds, and begins another attack. After a burst of extremely sudden acceleration that takes Michel by surprise, he plays a one-two with a low chunk of broken masonry, the stump of a wall. The return pass is perfectly weighted; it evades Luisao’s desperate attempt at interception, and the ball drops into a space that Michel will not reach in time. The boy takes it on the outside of his right foot and sets off on a direct run toward the center of the penalty area, and, as he had intended, the Brazilians funnel in toward the goal, their eyes on the ball. But he does not continue the run. Instead he brakes, comes to a dead stop. The ball is, tantalizingly, a pace in front of his right foot; it tempts Maicon, who closes in, his face almost blank with determination. And the boy, with outrageous insolence, plays it through the defender’s legs. There is only just enough room between the V of the bicycle frame and its crossbar for the ball to pass through — but it does pass through and runs out wide to where the boy’s fullback is making an overlapping run. When the pass comes in, it is sweetly hit, with some inswing, and the boy meets it with his head.

Or he would have.

His name is Ricardo Gomes de Barros, and he is fourteen years old. His aunt, with whom he lives — he has no parents, although he sometimes hears their voices in his head — calls him Rico. So does his sister. The other kids, the ones who call him anything at all, call him El Brujito. The Little Magician. The Little Sorcerer. Because he can do impossible things, such as disappear. Turn the wrong way onto a ball, fake you out, and be gone. A minute later, he will reappear in a place where he cannot possibly be. He can take the ball on his chest with his back to you, and even if you charge into him and knock him down, you will not find the ball. You will look around for it only to discover that it has somehow found its way to another forward who has outflanked your entire defense. There is perhaps something supernatural about Brujito’s ability to do these things. And he himself would not deny it. Not out of arrogance, but out of modesty.

He is wearing a Deportivo San Juan soccer jersey. Its red and black quarters have faded, and it is ripped at the seam below both armpits. One of his imitation Adidas sneakers is splitting along the seam of the upper and the sole, and the lace of the other has been replaced by green nylon string. The sky above him is pearl white, already pinkish above the tree line. Soon other boys will drift by, and some will call out to him.

"Hey, Brujito! Chill, man! Come on down to the boat shed!"

"Yeah, c’mon, freak! Jaco’s got some wicked smoke!"

He will lift a thumb and say, "Cool. See you later maybe."

But he won’t go, even though it is rumored that Rafael’s sister will be there tonight and they say she will do anything. And in a vague and troubling way, he is curious to discover what anything is. . . . .


THE PENALTY by Mal Peet. Copyright (c) 2007 by Mal Peet. Published by Candlewick Press, Inc., Cambridge, MA.

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Customer Reviews

Average Rating 3.5
( 2 )
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Sort by: Showing all of 2 Customer Reviews
  • Anonymous

    Posted February 2, 2008

    A fascinating blend of history and mystery. . .and in a class by itself.

    Mal Peet is proof that YA is not synonymous with unsophisticated. The Penalty is worthy of attention from a variety of reading circles. Part suspense, part historical fiction, and part fantasy, this story chronicles the abduction of the soccer protégé, Ricardo Gomes de Barrors, known as El Brujito (the magician) to his fans. Sports writer, Paul Faustino, is covering another story, but becomes embroiled in the intrigue when one of his journalist colleagues is murdered, and then when he, himself, is abducted in an effort to gain publicity and freedom for El Brujito. The plot moves quickly, although the story changes perspective between Faustino and the El Brujito¿s ancestor. Woven into the story is the historical background of slave trading and holding that took place in South America¿a little known historical tidbit. While not exactly a sequel to The Keeper, one of Mal Peet¿s heavily awarded earlier books, this stand alone story continues to follow Paul Faustino¿s treks. Given how much I enjoyed the story, I am mightily tempted to read the first couple of books by this author. Students who enjoy the supernatural, voodoo, intrigue, or sports will enjoy this. History teachers might find this an excellent book for excerpts that would be a great catalyst for any discussion about human rights and slavery.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted December 13, 2009

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