February 4, 2012

Outcasts United

by Warren St. John
ages: adult
First sentence: "On a cool spring afternoon at a soccer field in northern Georgia, two teams of teenage boys were going through their pregame warm-ups when the heavens began to shake."
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The thing I like best about St. John's writing is that, no matter the subject, he really makes you care about it. Seriously. Granted, this one has a subject -- a woman who creates soccer teams, and an outlet, for refugees in Clarkston, Georgia -- that is easy to care about. But, St. John doesn't do the predictable thing and make the bok Inspirational and Heart-Warming. No, he does the good thing, and makes the book interesting.

The focus is on Luma Mufleh, who grew up in Jordan loving soccer. St. John touches on, but doesn't delve into Luma's trouble with growing up in such a restrictive environment for girls. She comes to the U.S. for college, and much to her father's disappointment, decides to stay. She tries a few things, coaching soccer on the side, before literally falling into creating teams for the boys of Clarkston.

Clarkston, Georgia was once a sleepy little southern town. However, over the last decade or so, it has become a place for refugees -- from all over the world, but mostly Africa -- to begin their lives in the U. S. You can imagine (and, unfortunately, the town lives up to that stereotype) how that goes over in the all-white, good-boy South. The problem is that because there isn't much infrastructure for them, the kids were getting lost in the cracks, turning to gangs, drugs and violence.

Enter Luma's soccer program. She's not an easy coach -- to his credit, St. John never glorifies her: she is harsh, she is unforgiving, she is tough, she is demanding. But above all, she is dedicated and she cares. Amazingly, this combination of toughness and caring works, especially for the younger kids. Not only does Luma give them a purpose, family and a place, she teaches them to win games.

As I mentioned before, it's not an Inspirational book, and yet there is a message: one person can make a difference. It's just not one that St. John beats you over the head with, thankfully. Instead, he found a good story, spent a while researching it, and told it in a compelling way. Which makes this one excellent book.

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