"You gotta wonder who the genius was that came up with the plan to put a bunch of Africans in Maine, the coldest, whitest state in America"
This is the story of Tom Bouchard, a soccer team, a small town in Maine, an influx of Somali refugees, and the small choices we make every day. How do we do what is both right for ourselves and for others? How do we make that the same thing?
One aspect of this book that I found both interesting and accurate at the same time was the distance that was maintained between Saeed and Tom even after they become friends. They aren't speaking the same language. This sis true in a literal sense, a cultural sense, and from a life experience sense. This doesn't mean that their friendship isn't valid but it does leave a lot of room for misunderstandings. Until they can speak one language together fluently they are always going to find one another slightly puzzling.
The casual racism displayed in this book was infuriating. Realistic, but infuriating. People call the Somali players, "Osama". Someone jokes that Mecca is over by the mall and the girls wearing hijabs are a constant source of ridicule. The thing that is so realistic is that no one really thinks that they are being cruel. They see themselves and being funny and anyone who points that out is seen as a killjoy.
I teach an an international school. More than 80% of my students are not native English speakers. It takes a certain amount of effort but it does not have to been the train wreck of the school in this book. Yes, strong EAL teachers are needed (and don't seem to be present here) but all teachers and staff have to accept and embrace that face that WE ARE ALL LANGUAGE TEACHERS. The portrayal of support that the students receive (which is probably very accurate) hurts my heart. The school was obviously trying but also sort of flailing wildly in an attempt to find a "solution". I may have been yelling at the book while reading.
I found that this book balanced plot well with characterization. Sometimes, after I am done reading a very character focused book I struggle to remember what actually happened in the story. In this book both the plot and the characters were given due attention.
Bottom line: Thought provoking, entertaining, and well worth reading.
At Maquoit High School, Tom Bouchard has it made: captain and star of the soccer team, boyfriend to one of the prettiest, most popular girls, and third in his class, likely to have his pick of any college, if he ever bothers filling out his applications. But life in his idyllic small Maine town quickly gets turned upside down after the events of 9/11.
Enniston has become a “secondary migration” location for Somali refugees, who are seeking a better life after their country was destroyed by war—they can no longer go home. Tom hasn’t thought much about his Somali classmates until four of them join the soccer team, including Saeed. He comes out of nowhere on the field to make impossible shots, and suddenly the team is winning, dominating even; but when Saeed’s eligibility is questioned and Tom screws up in a big way, he’s left to grapple with a culture he doesn’t understand and take responsibility for his actions. Saeed and his family came out of nowhere and vanish just as quickly. And Tom may find himself going nowhere, too, if he doesn’t start trying to get somewhere.