Length: 256 pages
Publisher: Knopf Books for Young Readers
At Maquoit High School, Tom Bouchard has it made: captain and star of the soccer team, boyfriend to one of the prettiest, most popular girls, and third in his class, likely to have his pick of any college, if he ever bothers filling out his applications. But life in his idyllic small Maine town quickly gets turned upside down after the events of 9/11.
Enniston has become a “secondary migration” location for Somali refugees, who are seeking a better life after their country was destroyed by war—they can no longer go home. Tom hasn’t thought much about his Somali classmates until four of them join the soccer team, including Saeed. He comes out of nowhere on the field to make impossible shots, and suddenly the team is winning, dominating even; but when Saeed’s eligibility is questioned and Tom screws up in a big way, he’s left to grapple with a culture he doesn’t understand and take responsibility for his actions. Saeed and his family came out of nowhere and vanish just as quickly. And Tom may find himself going nowhere, too, if he doesn’t start trying to get somewhere.
Here’s what I thought:
I’ve been really lucky with YA lately. It’s not a genre that I normally read, mainly because there’s a lot of not-so-great YA out there and having been a middle and high-school teacher, I tend to be very picky. I want it to be age-appropriate, sure, but I also want it to be real, and that can be a fine line for a YA writer to walk.
Having read Something Like Normal by Trish Doller recently and been pleasantly surprised by her well-written story of a young soldier returning home from his first tour of duty in Afghanistan, I felt open to reading more YA. Out of Nowhere is for a slightly younger audience and could even be appropriate for middle grades. Happily, I was once again impressed by the writing and handling of the issues that the books raised, in this case the relocation of Somali refugees to a small town in Maine.
The main character, Tom, comes from a family of French-Canadian immigrants who settled in Enniston when his grandmother was a child. He’s grown up as a typical American kid but has a consciousness of his roots, which perhaps makes him more open-minded when it comes to accepting the new immigrants in town. Then, of course, there’s the fact that they can really play soccer, and as the captain of his high school team, Tom appreciates their skills.
However, not everyone in town welcomes the Somalis with open arms, and what follows is the story of this small town reacting and adjusting to their new population even as Tom’s own cultural attitudes and world view are being tested. At first I worried that the message of the book was going to be a little too “after school special,” but the story is told with enough depth and complexity that it doesn’t come across that way. There are a lot of gray areas in the way the townspeople perceive the Somalis (and vice-versa), but there is no clear division between supporters and detractors. Rather, the town is trying to figure out how to think and feel about (and deal with) their new reality, and that process includes some growing pains.
With its universal themes of sport, love, and friendship, Out of Nowhere is a book that will appeal to a wide range of readers. It’s one I would definitely recommend to middle and high school students.
Thanks to NetGalley and Knopf Books for Young Readers for providing me with a review copy of this book.
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