Nonfiction, Sports

Outcasts United, by Warren St. John

Anytime you read a sports biography, you hope to be inspired and you expect to read about obstacles being overcome.  These were the feelings I had as I began to read Outcasts United, the true story of a Jordanian woman named Luma Mufleh, who moved to the United States and, through a series of events, put together a soccer team full of immigrant, at-risk boys from war-torn countries.

As someone who taught at-risk kids for years, many of them immigrants or children of first generation immigrants, I have a lot of respect for someone who can devote so much time helping these kids assimilate to American culture.  The boys in this story were dealing with all sorts of issues, including the psychological trauma of living for years under the umbrella of war.  Many had experienced the loss of a parent or sibling, lived in ramshackle refugee camps with their accompanying starvation and poverty, and little or no schooling.

The US government, in an attempt to give these families a fresh start in the “land of promise and opportunity,” chose the small city of Clarkston, Georgia, to relocate them.  The housing was sparse and in a bad part of town.  And the city’s residents, many of whom had lived there all their lives, did not take to their new neighbors well.  The differences could not be ignored, and many complained or simply moved away.

Meanwhile, a young woman named Luma Mufleh, was dealing with the challenges of going beyond her own culturally acceptable boundaries and the affect it was having on her family, particularly her father.  She was a Middle Eastern woman who did not want to be put into a certain mold. She was searching for her niche at the same time as the Clarkston refugees were in need of sympathetic leadership.

The story, itself, is inspiring.  I grew to really like Luma.  Her courage and tenacity is to be admired.  She became much more than a coach, but also a tutor, a mentor, and a surrogate parent for many.  She had, and has, very high standards for the boys, insisting that they sign a contract and follow certain rules in order to be on the team.  Hard work, dedication, discipline, and respect for rules takes precedent over athletic skill.

Although the story is inspiring, however, I found the writing to be lacking.  There is a monotone quality to the author’s style that detracted from the book’s potential.  Even though you know that it is a true story, the people in it are still treated in a flat, 2 dimensional way .  It wasn’t until I went to the teams’ website and watched their coach being interviewed that I got a full sense of the kinds of kids she was helping.  She’s energetic and spunky, the kids are excited and hopeful.  This should have been conveyed on the page and, sadly, it wasn’t.

7/10 Stars

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