Allison's Book Bag

Outcasts United by Warren St. John

Posted on: March 16, 2013

In Outcasts United: The Story of a Refugee Soccer Team That Changed a Town, author Warren St. John superbly draws on his journalistic skills to create a fast-paced and unbiased portrayal of one season in the life of a team of refugee children. Sports stories aren’t my normal reading fare, but I loved this book.

I appreciate that Warren St. John wrote with the objectivity I would expect from a professional journalist. When describing refugee families new to Clarkston, Georgia, St. John shared enough to make readers aware of the circumstances that brought them to America but not so much as to raise distracting political issues. When reporting on a Clarkston town meeting, at which Coach Luma requests allocation of an unused part of the town sports field for her team, St. John presents both sides: the concern of the locals about potential abuse of the field, and the simple desire of the team (the Fugees) for a place where they can feel safe and play soccer. St. John also captures the conflict within the team itself, with respect to some of the players’ reluctance to follow the coach’s strict rules.

The natural inclination of those who are eager to find multicultural books can be to recommend any and all multicultural books without regard to quality. I’m happy to say that anyone who picks up Outcasts United will find a story of exemplary merit. St. John provides readers with the necessary information about how Clarkston came to be home to so many refugee families and how the community reacts, but he also pushes past these hard-core facts to tell the personal stories of the coach and the players’ families. To give just a little glimpse…. I felt inspired by the story of Coach Luma, a young Jordanian woman educated in the United States but disowned by her family when she decided not to return home. Various team members receive similar coverage, such as Beatrice who fled Liberia with her children when men attacked her husband for not providing them with government money. In America, Beatrice’s son Jeremiah only becomes part of the Fugees after she gets the coach to promise to drive him to and from the soccer field, and to take responsibility for him as if he was her own. Such dedication was also displayed by St. John, who didn’t just interview the participants in this story but became part of their lives: for example, on one occasion he gave a ride to one team member who would have otherwise missed the game. He used his intimate knowledge of this close-knit group to write a fast-pace story full of soccer action, town drama, and quiet moments.

Warren St. John has crafted an unbiased and exciting story about one season in the life of an obscure but unique small-town youth soccer team. For that I commend him. Outcasts United: The Story of a Refugee Soccer Team That Changed a Town is a must-read for anyone, whether a fan of soccer or not. It’s page-turning nonfiction, which I suspect is a rare feat.

My rating? Bag it: Carry it with you. Make it a top priority to read.

How would you rate this book?

6 Responses to "Outcasts United by Warren St. John"

I love your website 🙂 Greeting from Poland!

Thanks! Greetings from a Canadian living in the United States. 🙂

I have read this one and found it to be an excellent source of details and situations that many children of immigrants go through- the author doesn’t sugar coat things and does point out obstacles the students face, but by giving us the background of some of the students, it helps teachers to understand what some of their students might be experiencing.

I agree! Thanks for your comment.

I had this out from the library for a while but never got around to reading it. I’ll have to bring it home again and give it another try.

I don’t read much nonfiction for pleasure and so it took me a few chapters to feel comfortable with this format. Once I did, I enjoyed Outcasts United as much as any novel.

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