By Warren St. John
Random House, New York (2009)
Whether you are a soccer mom or a grandmom, this is the book for you. Soccer is the sport of this book, but what makes it stand out is Luma Mufleh, the charismatic young lady who turns a group of refugees who find themselves in a southern town into a cohesive group of team players.
The town of Clarkston, Georgia, was changed forever when the United States government selected it as a home for refugee families from Liberia, Sudan, Iraq and Afghanistan. The arrival of these families in an old town with set ways has subplots including the redneck mayor, who tries to throw many roadblocks in the way of the newly formed soccer teams, the local citizens who don’t want to lose their established ways and the dedication of the young woman from Jordan who coaches these teams make a compelling plot. She is a tough taskmaster who demands much from her players, which did not sit well with many of the players and their parents. But Luma makes fast friends with other parents and players due to her compassionate nature and financial help.
Knowing the general rules of soccer will make this a more interesting read, but not having been a soccer mom or grandmom, I picked up the rules as I read.
The author, Warren St. John, does a superb job of helping the reader understand the complexity of the different members of the soccer teams, from the defiant Prince, who refuses to cut his hair, to Mandela, Jeremiah and Mohammed, who are team players and help guide the members of their own team and the younger players into learning to play together. These boys, who come from a devastating background, are transplanted into an alien culture with few personal possessions. Luma devotes her time, to the detriment of her own personal life, to help these young refugees, who name their team the “Fugees,” indicating their refugee status. She is fortunate to find another devoted young woman, Tracy Ediger, to act as team manager. From my perspective, not enough attention was paid to the manager in the story, because without her, there would be been no teams. But the author, who was allowed into their lives, still tells a remarkable tale.
Much is learned about the history and turmoil of the home countries of the players and coaches in the telling of the story. Just finding a place to play was a constant ordeal. There was also a language barrier due to the many nationalities represented on the teams.
Outcasts United has been picked as the book of the year in several United States cities, where there were many discussion groups, activities and talks by the author.
~ Peggy Kiefer