Monday, March 23, 2009

Review: Outcasts United: A Refugee Team, an American Town by Warren St. John

Wow! This was an amazing book and I've already mentioned reading it at T.'s practices and reflecting on how much our children have both in material possessions and in terms of intangibles like safety and security. If you missed that post, you can see it here.

St. John followed a season with the Fugees soccer teams in Clarkston, Georgia. What makes the Fugees teams different from the usual kid soccer teams elsewhere in suburban Atlanta and around the country is that all the kids on the teams are refugees from war torn nations around the world who have been relocated to southern Clarkston. St. John focuses not only on the kids, roughly middle school aged, but on their families, histories, their unique coach, and on the rapidly changing face of the town of Clarkston. He weaves all of this together seamlessly, presenting a compelling story of the difficulties the refugees present to a town mired in its sleepy past, the escape that a seriously underfunded and ignored soccer program can offer to children who have seen and survived the worst that fellow human beings have to offer, and how the two things can come together: in conflict or in harmony. The personal histories here are completely horrific and engrossing. Coach Luma is inspiring. And the road blocks thrown up by the town for no good reason are infuriating. But St. John doesn't present shy away from the troubles that have visited the town with the huge influx of refugees. And he doesn't portray Mufleh, the female Jordanian coach volunteering her time, as without flaws. He tries to be fairly balanced, detailing ways in which the town has adapted and grown and made the advent of so many international peoples a positive one even as he highlights short-sightedness on the part of others in town. A definite challenge, one that was well done and kept me reading long past when the light should have been turned off, I would recommend this to anyone interested in narrative non-fiction.

**Note that this was an Advanced Reading Copy and the actual book is not due out until April 21st of this year.

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