The Final Year by Matt Goodfellow, illustrated by Joe Todd-Stanton

The Final Year by Matt Goodfellow – at a glance

The School Reading Lists’ five word review: Poetry, school, friendship, family, feelings.
Children’s book title: The Final Year.
Children’s author: Matt Goodfellow.
Children’s illustrator: Joe Todd-Stanton.
Genre: Verse novel.
Published by: Otter-Barry Books
ISBN: 9781915659040.
Recommended for children aged: 9-12 year-olds.
First published: Paperback September 2023.
This children’s book is ideal for: Readers concerned over the transition to secondary school.

The Final Year by Matt Goodfellow, illustrated by Joe Todd-Stanton

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Our review:

Ten-year-old Nate lives in a small inner-city terraced house with his three brothers, all with different (and absent) dads. His mum does her best but she’s out of work and spends most of her time at the Bingo, hoping to win enough for a family holiday, or at least pay off some debt.

Me (gonna do mine in rhyme)
Tall thin
Like to win

on-point hair
long-distance stare

love football laughs
not down with maths

read everthin
make words sing

write don’t fight
not a coward though right?

(Just swear I’m scared I’ll lose control
of The Beast that sleeps within my soul.)

Nate is determined to manage the anger issues that have plagued him in the past, but school is getting stressful. He’s going into his final year of Primary and the teachers are piling on the pressure of homework, SATS and getting ready for Secondary school.

The Final Year by Matt Goodfellow spread 1

When he’s put in a different class from his best friend Parker, Nate loses his main source of support. Things get worse when Parker becomes friends with bully Turner and Nate’s younger brother Dylan falls seriously ill. Even with the support of the cool new teacher Mr Joshua, Nate’s final year of primary school is going to be a whole lot harder to get through than he expected.

The Final Year is a moving novel in verse with a strongly voiced protagonist. Nate’s struggles with both the stresses of Year Six and his own anger issues are realistically portrayed. The author’s teaching experience gives authenticity to the details of school life. Nate’s story provides valuable insights for parents and teachers on the pressures that today’s children face.

The Final Year by Matt Goodfellow spread 2

The verse format makes for an accessible read and the illustrations enhance the realistic setting. Nate’s working-class background gives much-needed representation. His personality is cleverly layered, avoiding the ‘angry, fatherless kid with struggling single mum’ stereotype. Nate’s love of both books and football, his loyalty to his friends and his love for his younger brothers make for a well-rounded and engaging protagonist.

wings of white fold around you
as you sleep
and outside the world is liquid
the world is liquid
but I am flesh and blood
And you are my brother.

The homage to David Almond, and Skellig in particular, gives an interesting intertextual element to the book. Nate’s teacher Mr Joshua is the sort of cool, understanding adult that all children need in their lives. Young readers, especially boys, will find much to identify with in this book and will be rooting for Nate to overcome his issues and embrace the new start that secondary school will bring.

The Final Year is a highly relevant book that would serve as a great support for year five and six pupils who are facing their own imminent move to secondary school.

Many thanks to Otter-Barry Books for the review copy.

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If you like The Final Year by Matt Goodfellow you might also like: our reviews of Forwards Always by Matthew Hodson, A Passing On Of Shells by Simon Lamb, The Boy Lost in the Maze by Joseph Coelho, Musical Truth by Jeffrey Boakye and Ajay and the Jaipur Moon by Varsha Shah.

Browse our list of books for year 6

About Melanie Dillon

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Melanie has a Master’s degree in Information and Library Management; a Post Graduate Certificate in Children’s Literature focusing on the Reading Agency’s Reading Well scheme & LGBT YA fiction, and extensive experience working in school and public libraries. Linkedin | Reviews by Melanie Dillon