Saeed’s soccer is brilliant, his smile is blinding, his skin as black as the Somali refugee camp that his family had fled. Maybe Saeed could help Chamberlain High win against their biggest rivals, thought Tom, but winning over the townspeople to accept the Somali Muslim immigrants would be a far larger battle.
Tom’s small Maine hometown wasn’t thrilled at the secondary migration of Somali refugees from the big cities like Atlanta where they’d been placed on first arrival in the US. Most of these new students spoke very little English so the school counselors are frazzled.
Luckily, soccer has its own global language, so once Tom can get Saeed’s mother to sign his permission slips, the team will have their best chance ever against fancy Maquoit High School. Too bad Saeed’s sister Samira took an instant dislike to Tom (everyone likes Tom, especially the girls).
Too bad that Tom went along with his lifelong pal Donnie on a prank where they were caught redhanded. Now it’s hours of community service (bet that stoner doesn’t follow through) along with soccer practice which lands Tom at the community center, tutoring a young Somali boy, meeting a cute college girl, and wondering if he really wants to stay with his affectionate but less-than-intelligent girlfriend.
What an amazing soccer season! Thanks to Saeed and the other Somali players, the team becomes a fast, accurate scoring machine. But the final games against their arch-rivals fall during Ramadan, when the Muslim students fast until sunset, so the team’s dream may drift away. Tom’s relatives continue to argue about the refugees, Donnie goes one goof too far, and a white supremacist group plans a rally in Enniston.
How much tension can a small town take before something snaps?
How can very different religions co-exist peacefully?
How can one small action change everything?
Tom thinks things through as he accepts these new players who came from Out of Nowhere, trying to make up his own mind about how the past impacts the future during his tumultuous senior year.
Recommended by: Katy Manck, Librarian-at-Large (retired academic/corporate/school librarian), Gilmer, Texas, USA – blogging young adult books beyond the bestsellers at http://BooksYALove.blogspot.com
"I like the shores of America!
Comfort is yours in America!
Knobs on the doors in America,
Wall-to-wall floors in America!
-- L. Bernstein, S. Sondheim, (1956)
"You've got to 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. Okay, maybe Alaska is colder. But not whiter. And it's true that the Somalis who began showing up in Enniston by the hundreds started out someplace else. Warm places, like Georgia and southern California. Our town wasn't ever anybody's first bright idea. We'd gotten what's called a 'secondary migration' (my aunt Maddie taught me that term), which is when refugees who have just barely made it out alive from some war zone are dumped in a city where there are plenty of cheap apartments, but as soon as they learn a few words of English they realize their situation sucks. Like the guy next door deals drugs and the schools are bad, So they move to a better place. Like Enniston. Which has pretty low crime, okay schools, and loads of cheap, empty apartments.”
Meet Chamberlain High School senior Tom Bouchard. Tom is far from being a goody-goody, but he's definitely a solid citizen: third academically in his class; a guy who instinctively stands up for losers and lost sheep; and captain of the soccer team. Which is where Tom meets and gets to know Saeed, a member of that "secondary migration" of Somali Muslims to Enniston (and Chamberlain High). Saeed, who has suddenly shown up at Chamberlain, plays soccer at a whole 'nother level, but can hardly speak a word of English.
"Every day in school you saw a new bunch of them in the guidance office, these black kids who barely spoke English. They would wander, lost, through the halls, trying to figure out the whole concept of changing classes. The girls would wash their feet in the restroom sinks before lunch, which made them real popular with Cherisse's crowd (not). One day I saw this Somali girl on all fours on the staircase landing. Everybody had to step around her, and I heard one guy say, 'Dude, what is she doing?' "'Facing Mecca, ' someone replied. "'Where's Mecca?' somebody else asked. "It's out by the mall,' a third answered, which got a few laughs. But not everyone was laughing. People were mad. Worried. Especially teachers. Who didn't know what to do with hundreds of kids who just showed up and didn't know English. Hell, a lot of them couldn't even read and write in their own language.”
I always wondered how all of those Cambodian refugees in Gary Schmidt's TROUBLE -- an all-time favorite of mine -- had found their way to the down-on-the-heels Massachusetts mill town of Merton which, in that story, comes to be known as "Little Cambodia." Now, thanks to Tom Bouchard and his Aunt Maddie, I understand it.
Anyway, Tom gets conned into pulling a prank on a rival high school by a childhood friend who is now a stoner-type, gets caught, and finds himself doing community service -- providing tutoring to a young Somali kid -- at a drop-in center. This leads to Tom meeting a college girl working at the drop-in center who has killer eyes and is a million times more enlightened than his stuck-up, clueless, hottie girlfriend Cherisse.
What turns these elements into a pressure cooker is the combination of Chamberlain's soccer team (which has long served as a doormat) turning into a rising power -- thanks to Saeed and the team's other new Somalian players -- combined with a letter published in the local paper, written by the mayor, in which she urges the town's Somalian residents to not encourage any more immigrants to move to Enniston. Yessirree! There is nothing like painting a big target on the backs of the Somalian young people attending Enniston's schools, including Chamberlain.
What adds to the mix is the fact that Enniston is not a WASP haven. This is a working class town by and large populated by those of French Canadian descent whose parents or grandparents were immigrants themselves. OUT OF NOWHERE gets to me for many reasons. The camaraderie that develops among the members of the soccer team, the game action sequences, and the other issues relating to the team, make this a first-rate sports story that I read in one day. The story deals honestly with the issues surrounding a school that is overwhelmed with a need for special services. The bullying aspects of the tale are significant, particularly since the kids who are wrong are jerks but not caricatures. There is a real stand-by-your-friends aspect of Tom Bouchard that we can all stand to learn from and which I loved.
There is a pivotal subplot involving a lawyer, the father of a rival soccer player, which touches on issues of parenting and privilege. But what is equally important for me is that OUT OF NOWHERE is an enlightening story about what it is like to be growing up a practicing Muslim in post-9/11 America. For years, I have wanted to educate myself by reading one of the recently-published nonfiction books for children about what being Muslim is all about. I've felt some guilt about not having done so. By bringing me into the lives and households of these young Somalian immigrants, this story has really enlightened me about Islamic practices and beliefs, and this makes me want to go out of my way to get this exciting and important contemporary teen read into a lot of teen hands. ISBN: 978-0-375-86580-0 352 pages. Ages 12 & up.
Recommended by: Richie Partington, MLIS, Librarian, California USA See more of Richie's Picks at: http://richiespicks.com/
Teenage years have got a whole lotta learning going on in them. Tom Bouchard, ranked third in his high school class, captain of the soccer team, and boyfriend of the hot girl, Cherisse, looks like he has it all figured out. His friend, Donnie, with his devil may care, drug addicted attitude looks like he could use some help figuring it all out.
Alex Rhodes, soccer star of the Maquoit team, has inside of him what it takes to be a good guy with some integrity to be proud of but his life is complicated by a father who is determined to see his son and his son's soccer team be the best.
Everyone of these guys has a story and into this community of stories that are known and woven into each other come Somali immigrants running from civil war and violence and bringing stories of their own.
Sensitivity, empathy and courage are the glasses through which we follow the characters as they struggle in a town that prizes its soccer and is torn over the arrival of these new townspeople wearing their different clothes, praying five times a day, not wanting to touch a dog, and celebrating Ramadan. This is not business as usual in a small town in Maine and the resources are being drained rapidly.
How do you decide what is right? How much of your story depends on old wounds? What are the fears that drive people to hold others down? If a culture is different from yours, is it wrong?
Tom Bouchard is a young man plenty of young men could learn a boatload from. He takes time to think things through and he isn't fooled by the glitter and the gleam.
Heartwarming and thought-provoking.
Recommended by: Barb, abookandahug.com