(Spiegel & Grau, 307 pages, $24.95)
Kids playing soccer in the town park? In fast-changing Clarkston, Ga., the very thought of it was disturbing enough that in mid-2006 the mayor decreed that baseball would be the only game allowed there. Little Clarkston hadn’t planned for a sudden influx of teenagers and younger children who played a global game on its manicured turf and spoke strange languages in its formerly all-white classrooms. Yet various refugee resettlement agencies had decided that the Atlanta suburb’s enviable public transit system and surfeit of inexpensive housing made it an ideal home for families fleeing the world’s war zones. The boys who came from those families weren’t inclined to give up their favorite game easily, and neither was their coach.
“You can wait for the movie” that’s sure to be made of Warren St. John’s uplifting new book, said Steven V. Roberts in The Washington Post, but the story it tells is more “textured” than anything you can expect from Hollywood. It’s true that Coach Luma Mufleh, a Jordanian-born Smith College graduate, can accurately be described as a “tough-but-tender soul who forges an adorable group of multicolored athletes into a cohesive unit.” It’s also true that they all teach one another some life lessons along the way. But no movie could tell you as much as St. John does about the traumas that these kids have witnessed or the new America that immigrant families like theirs are creating. More than one in eight residents of this country are now foreign-born. Their pluck and determination may be the nation’s greatest resource.
Some old-time Clarkston residents seem to get this, said Wyatt Williams in Creative Loafing. St. John introduces a grocer who embraces fish sauce and cassava powder to save his business and rival teams who donate equipment to Coach Mufleh’s “Fugees.” Even the mayor proves to be a more compassionate leader than he first appears. St. John’s “portrait of small-town America in transition” couldn’t be more compelling, said K. Leander Williams in Time Out New York. The author “clearly loves soccer,” too, and never forgets that “the beautiful game” is this story’s music.