Out of nowhere

Maria Padian

Book - 2013

Performing community service for pulling a stupid prank against a rival high school, soccer star Tom tutors a Somali refugee with soccer dreams of his own.

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New York : Alfred A. Knopf 2013.
Main Author
Maria Padian (-)
1st ed
Physical Description
337 p. ; 22 cm
Contents unavailable.
Review by New York Times Review

A SMALL town in Maine is flooded with Somali refugees looking for a better way of life. The soccer team gets a jolt of inspiration and outstanding play from its new, non-English-speaking players. They might just have a chance to beat their archrivals! At least, so says Tom Bouchard, the handsome, nice-guy team captain and narrator. Getting in the way are Tom's nasty, dimwitted girlfriend Cherisse, his hapless bad-boy friend Donnie, and prejudices and culture clashes on both sides. Maria Padian, the author of two previous young adult novels ("Jersey Tomatoes Are the Best" and "Brett McCarthy: Work in Progress"), offers plenty of story in "Out of Nowhere": romantic rivalries, class tensions, family pressures. She has a firm sense of plot, and the circumstances her characters grapple with - cyberbullying, the burden of a burnout friend, the pain of growing and changing - will resonate with young readers. Padian is trying a broader canvas here than in her previous work, grappling not just with people but also with their larger cultures, but, alas, with mixed results. One can't help rooting for her attempt to show us the wider world. Yet the constant stream of explanation drags down the narrative at the expense of both character and forward momentum. This cultural responsibility is hardest on those characters who represent an ideology. There is the conservative Uncle Paul: "People who were born and raised in this town are on waiting lists for housing, while these folks show up by the busloads." And the Uberai Aunt Maddie: "These people have fled war zones, Paul. Where is your compassion?" Though these characterizations are leavened by contrary details - Paul turns out to have some compassion after all; Maddie watches "Survivor" - they are not enough to bring them to life. Other characters, like Saeed, the Somali soccer prodigy at the novel's center, never fully emerge. Instead, we end up with a vague sense that he is, you know, good. "He wasn't able to give you a straight story about where he'd come from, but this new customer? He was all right," Tom tells us. These difficulties are compounded by another formidable obstacle: Tom himself. Third in his class, a star athlete, beloved by the ladies, Tom is the antithesis of the usual teenage outsider narrator. Which is an appealing idea. It's not often readers get to hear from a smart, athletic, funny guy. The problem is that he, too, remains somewhat indistinct. First, there is the voice itself: sometimes it comes across as intelligent and witty, other times close to dim. From the beginning, Tom sounds like something other than a real person: "I was stuck, O.K.? I'll man up to that. We were playing Maquoit High School." First of all, who says, "I'll man up to that"? And to hear a teenager say of his soccer team, "We were playing Maquoit High School," raises the question: Does he use the full name of everything? This authorial inclination to explain and clarify ends up obscuring the characters. It's hard to get worked up about skinheads invading the town when we have to pause for: "Ramadan, however, is a whole different deal. It's based on the Islamic calendar, which is about 11 days shorter than the Gregorian calendar, which, B.T.W., is our calendar, which means that every year Ramadan begins 11 days earlier than the year before. I got that off Wikipedia." This may all be true. It may even be interesting. But when you're stopping your narrative to quote Wikipedia, you are not giving your story wings. It's frustrating, because there is a real story here. Over the course of the novel, Tom's voice emerges and becomes more assured. But the people involved in his life never really become clear. Padian's previous novels demonstrated a real confidence in the smaller story and an ease with the emotions we humans are prey to. I wish she had trusted her characters here to bring their histories and cultures along with them, rather than the other way around. Third in his class, star athlete, ladies' man: Tom is the antithesis of the usual teenage outsider narrator. Marcia Lerner, who writes the blog The Diamond in the Window, is working on a novel, "Loopholes."

Copyright (c) The New York Times Company [February 3, 2013]
Review by Booklist Review

Grades, sports, and girls have always come easy to me, muses Tom Bouchard, captain of his high-school soccer team. What happens when, out of nowhere, a phenomenally talented soccer player named Saeed joins the team? Quite a lot, actually. Saeed is part of a new community of Somali immigrants who have arrived in Tom's small Maine hometown and created quite a stir. Not everyone welcomes them, and though Tom and Saeed become friends, there are those who would like to see Saeed removed from the team. Meanwhile, Tom has fallen for a slightly older girl who is a volunteer at the neighborhood center where he is performing community service. The two befriend Saeed's sister, and when Tom performs an ill-conceived gesture of sympathy, the futures of both Saeed and his sister are put in jeopardy. Padian has written a sensitive, sympathetic, and insightful portrayal of the plight of new immigrants attempting to acculturate while being forced to deal with casual bigotry. A timely and thought-provoking examination of a continuing dynamic in American communities.--Cart, Michael Copyright 2010 Booklist

From Booklist, Copyright (c) American Library Association. Used with permission.
Review by Publisher's Weekly Review

The influx of Somali refugees into a small Maine town proves eye-opening for senior soccer captain Tom Bouchard. Between the language barriers and unfamiliar Muslim traditions and customs, this "secondary migration" has brought tension, uneasiness, and confusion to his high school and community. Meanwhile, Tom's friend Donnie persuades him to deface a wealthy rival soccer team's property; when caught, Tom is sentenced to community service: tutoring Somalis. There, he develops a crush on a college girl and receives an education about Somali culture, which gives him a new perspective on both his history and his future. Padian (Jersey Tomatoes Are the Best) impressively handles many plot threads at once: Tom befriends Somali soccer player Saeed, questions his loyalty to Donnie and his relationship with his girlfriend, and frets over the approaching state soccer tournament. The author gracefully explores the intersections between culture and religion, as well as suspicion and prejudice in a post-9/11 world. Her well-formed characters and realistic circumstances make for a large and powerful story about re-evaluating one's beliefs. Ages 12-up. Agent: Edite Kroll, Edite Kroll Literary Agency. (Feb.) (c) Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved.

(c) Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved
Review by School Library Journal Review

Gr 9 Up-Tom Bouchard's small Maine hometown has become a key secondary migration location for Somali immigrants, and the local high school is overwhelmed with helping these students adjust to their new surroundings. As captain of the soccer team, Tom follows his instincts and recruits a Somali player, cashing in on Saeed's talents and unique playing style. In the wake of a racially charged incident on their home turf, the team goes on to beat their crosstown rival, sparking racist reactions both from the opposition and local authorities. To classify Out of Nowhere as a sports story sells it short. Soccer is certainly an element, with a fair amount of play-by-play action (and standard locker-room language), but the novel is rich and multidimensional, addressing the Muslim experience in America, addiction, and romance. Tom is an authentic narrator who deals out life-changing empathy.-Leah Krippner, Harlem High School, Machesney Park, IL (c) Copyright 2013. Library Journals LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted.

(c) Copyright Library Journals LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted.
Review by Horn Book Review

As captain of his Maine high school's soccer team, Tom's focused on defeating their rival school. But the controversy surrounding his town's Somali refugees--some of whom are on the team--forces Tom to confront some larger, harsh realities. Told through Tom's genial voice, this coming-of-age novel unflinchingly tackles issues of class, prejudice, and religion, culminating in a bittersweet, community-affirming ending. (c) Copyright 2013. The Horn Book, Inc., a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted.

(c) Copyright The Horn Book, Inc., a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted.
Review by Kirkus Book Review

When Somali refugees move to his Maine town, a soccer captain matures in this Chris Crutcherreminiscent drama based on a true event. High school senior Tom Bouchard is comfortable in the middle. He's uncomfortable with both his racist, working-class uncle and his anti-racist, college-educated aunt. He likes the Somali kids on his soccer team but doesn't mind that his hot girlfriend is a bigot. As more and more immigrants populate Enniston, rising tensions force Tom to pick sides. Richer towns, alarmed at the amazing soccer players among Enniston's Somali immigrants, challenge the eligibility of star player Saeed. The concerns of locals--ranging from outright racism to worries about an infrastructure collapsing under the influx of English language learners--lead to taunts, fights and worse. Highlighting this tension (with an unexpected subtlety, compared to Tom's tendency to explain facts about Somalia he learned on Wikipedia) are the French last names of almost all of Enniston's white residents, grandchildren of Qubecois once beaten in school for speaking French. Tom is a complex enough character to carry the heavy weight of racism, classism, sexism, culture shock and Islamophobia that comprise his story, with a believably encouraging coming-of-age. Still, the Somalis are here for Tom's education--as Tom's father says to him, "aren't you lucky? Knowing all these stories"--not for their own sake. Pair this novel with one from an immigrant's viewpoint, such as Marina Budhos' Tell Us We're Home (2010). An encouraging, if incomplete, tale of high school sports in the melting pot. (Fiction. 13-16)]] Copyright Kirkus Reviews, used with permission.

Copyright (c) Kirkus Reviews, used with permission.

Chapter One It's like he came out of nowhere. I was stuck, okay? I'll man up to that. We were playing Maquoit High School. I mean, more than half their guys play four-­season private club soccer. Olympic Development Program, that sort of thing. So yeah, I'm in the midfield with the ball and there's no one--­repeat, no one--­open on our team, and Maquoit's big man, the one we call Sasquatch, is bearing down on me. Six foot three, hairy, and he flies over the field. He's about to end my young life unless I dribble forward, right into their two equally behemoth defensive players. I'm thinking, Is this what you want, God? Fine. Hurl me headlong into those two Maquoit defenders, who will not only strip the ball from me but lay me out on the green, green grass. Fine. So long, life. That's what I was thinking when I heard him. Not God. I never hear God. I heard him. Saeed, the new guy. "Pass bahk!" There was something about his cry, and I don't just mean the accent, that startled me. His voice . . . commanded. So while I didn't see him, I didn't hesitate. I mean, what the hell, there was nobody else open. So I flipped the ball behind me in the direction of that strange voice, then did the unthinkable: I took one step toward Sasquatch and planted my feet. Prepared for the impact. The sidelines roared, and on my right this blur, this shadow dressed in our team uniform, flashed past me. I watched as he scooped up my pass and moved like blowing smoke, weaving a path toward the goal. The Maquoit defenders couldn't close ranks on him in time. Sasquatch couldn't change direction. I think half our team didn't even realize he had possession, the guy was that quick. So when he lasered the ball into the net, inches from their goalie's hands, and Sasquatch, traveling at forty miles per hour, body-­slammed the wind right out of me, I don't think anyone saw the impact. I heard cheering, yelling . . . before I hit the ground. I don't know how long I lay there, gently pressing each rib and testing for cracks, focusing on the challenge of pulling air into my lungs, before a face loomed over mine, blocking the sun. "Bouchard? Hey, man, are you dead?" Alex Rhodes, the Maquoit captain. I hadn't spoken to Alex in a long time. But he has one of those voices you remember. Sense of humor you remember, too. I bent one knee, squinted. A second face appeared next to Alex. Saeed. He was the first from our team to reach me. "You okay?" he said. I nodded automatically, even though I was anything but. I tried to draw another breath and it worked a little better. I had a sense of bodies moving close and a voice telling people to step back. I tried another breath, and it was good, so I nodded again. A hand grasped mine. Pulled me up. And people clapped. Outdoor claps, the sound carried by the wind, like Wiffle balls striking plastic bats. I turned to face him. He was the kind of skinny you noticed. Like, you could make out the skeleton just beneath the surface. But he was strong. That hand in mine pulled hard, and the muscles of his arms stretched sinewy and tight. I'd known he'd be strong. I'd sensed it that first day he showed up at school, wearing a Manchester United T-­shirt. Everybody in homeroom was asking him, "Dude, where'd you get the shirt?" but he didn't seem to understand the question. Mike Turcotte, who has a knack for communicating in made-­up sign language with all the new Somali kids, got Saeed to show him the tag on the shirt's collar. "Damn!" he'd exclaimed. "That's a real Manchester United shirt! Made in England." While the rest of the guys tried to figure out where in hell a refugee kid with zero money got a shirt like that, I'd pulled up a chair next to Saeed. "You like soccer?" I'd asked. Pointing to his shirt, I used the English name: "Football?" Relief flooded his face. He understood. "Soccer," he repeated, nodding vigorously. He pressed his hand against his chest. "Yes. I play." As I stood on the field with him, feeling my ribs and wondering if Sasquatch had just handed me a season-­ending injury, those words came back to me. It struck me that "I play" was possibly the understatement of the century. Saeed smiled at me, his lips stretched back against his teeth, bright white in his face. Black, black face. African black, not American black. "Great pass," he said, lightly punching the side of my shoulder. He pronounced each word hesitantly, as if it were a new food he was tasting for the first time. "Great goal," I said. Wheezed, actually. It was hard to talk. He turned and sprinted back to his position on the field. The other Somali guys crowded him, laughing and slapping him on the back. Alex was retreating, too. He winked at me. "Nice goal, but you're goin' down, Bouchard," he said. Quietly, for my ears only, glancing at the approaching referee: "Even if you do have Osama over there playing for you." He turned and trotted back to center. Yeah, fuck you, Rhodes, I managed to not say. The ref spoke to me. "You need to come out?" he said. I shook my head. Nothing hurt anymore, and my lungs could fill again. As I walked slowly back to midfield I scanned the crowd. My mom was in her usual spot, standing in front of the folding camp chair that Dad got her from Marden's. On the other side of the field, Donnie Plourde and the rest of them were taunting a pack of Maquoit fans and acting mad hammered. He probably was. Maquoit had better score fast and shut him up before a fight broke out. To the left of Donnie and Co. I saw Cherisse. She had her girlfriends all clustered around her, and she was clutching her hands beneath her chin in this little worried pose. They squealed on cue when I nodded in her direction, and they gave her these little re- assuring squeezes when they saw that her boyfriend was still alive. It's something I can never quite get over: the way girls are always hugging each other. Like, even when we change classes, as if years have passed since their last hug and not just the forty-­five minutes between math and history. We didn't win that day--­nobody beats Maquoit--­but we gave 'em a scare. Saeed scored once more, and I managed a goal. Maybe three seems lame compared to their five, but usually they dominated us. Three to five was a step in the right direction. After the handshake line and Coach's wrap-­up I looked for Saeed. He was at the far end of the bench, slipping a backpack over his shoulders. As I walked toward him this little kid approached. From the spectators' side of the field he ran straight for Saeed, so fast you thought he was going to topple over. A girl chased him. Well, sort of chased. She wore a long skirt and couldn't move like the kid. She was calling, "Aweys! Aweys, you come back here now!" The kid closed the distance and jumped on Saeed as I reached them. I recognized him then. One of the little brothers I'd met the day I went to their apartment. "Hey, man. Well done today," I said. I put my hand out. Saeed placed the kid on the ground. He shook my hand and smiled. "Great game," he said carefully. I laughed. "Actually, we sucked. But we sucked less thanks to you. Where'd you learn to play like that?" His brow contracted, forming a thin line over his nose. "Great pass," he finally said, nodding at me. Smiling. "I keep forgetting you don't understand a thing I'm saying, do you?" I replied, grinning back at him. His smile deepened and he looked relieved. Pleased that he was pulling off a conversation. "You know my brother's English isn't very good," I heard. It was the girl. The sister, actually. I recognized her, too, although I couldn't remember the name. Sonya . . . Sasha? Anyway, she seemed a little out of breath from chasing the kid. Which probably wasn't easy to do in a skirt. A long, colorful skirt all the way to her sneakers, and a leather bomber jacket on top. She wore big gold earrings that practically hit her shoulders, and unlike most of the Somali girls at our school, who covered up so that the only part of their heads you saw was this small circle of face, she had just a little black scarf tied around her hair. Unlike her brothers, she wasn't smiling at me. And unlike her brothers, she spoke great English. "Yeah, I know," I said easily. "But his soccer kicks ass." Her non-­smile deepened to a frown at the word ass. "I asked him where he learned to play," I continued. She hesitated for a moment, then said something to Saeed in what I assumed was Somali. He looked at me and shrugged. "I, uh, always play." He shrugged again. As if the outrageous soccer he'd just demonstrated on the field was no big deal. "Where we come from, boys play soccer all the time," the girl said. "Outside, every day. Saeed also played in the Ramadan leagues." Ramadan. Now that I knew. Only not in relation to sports. "I thought Ramadan was the month when you don't eat," I said. One corner of her mouth turned up. She was trying not to laugh at me. "Ramadan is a holy month in which we fast during the day and eat in the evening," she said. "In Nairobi, coaches form teams during Ramadan, and if you win, you earn money. Or dinner out, at night." She looked steadily into my eyes. "When you're hungry, a meal at a restaurant is a good incentive for scoring." The way she easily used words like incentive made you wonder how she could be related to smiling Saeed. "Well, thanks for explaining that," I said. "I'm Tom Bouchard, by the way. Tell me your name again?" She bent to scoop the little guy into her arms. "I know who you are," she said quietly. She glanced quickly at Saeed, then turned on her heel and headed back across the field. Saeed hooked his thumbs in the straps of his pack, nodded once more at me, and followed them. As I watched them go, I thought, Wow. That girl does not like me. It's weird when a total stranger already has her mind made up about you. Excerpted from Out of Nowhere by Maria Padian All rights reserved by the original copyright owners. Excerpts are provided for display purposes only and may not be reproduced, reprinted or distributed without the written permission of the publisher.