Outcasts United: The Story of a Refugee Soccer Team That Changed a Town
This book has been reviewed by Focus on the Family’s marriage and parenting magazine.
Crude or Profane Language
Drug and Alcohol Content
Other Negative Elements
Luma Mufleh is a young Jordanian woman from a family of privilege. She studies in the United States, but her father disowns her when she decides not to return to her homeland. Luma is an avid soccer player. After struggling to support herself without her family’s money, she takes a job coaching youth soccer programs in Atlanta. Her players, girls from middle- to upper-class families, show little heart in their playing.
Luma stumbles upon the city of Clarkston, Georgia, a town the government has slowly turned into a refugee community. Luma sees boys of various nationalities playing soccer, and she recognizes both heart and potential. She returns to Clarkston to determine how she might help these young refugee boys.
Working at first with the YMCA, she is able to set up soccer programs and secure playing facilities. Her players become known as the Fugees. She faces opposition from city government and older, non-refugee community members and is eventually forced to hold practices on a field that is in very poor condition. Luma appeals to the city council and is later able to secure the use of a nicer field for a time. Then the privilege is revoked again.
As Luma gets to know the boys of Clarkston, she learns many stories of their troubled pasts. One mother, Beatrice Ziaty, fled the dangers of Monrovia with sons Darlington, Jeremiah and Mandela. They lived in dirty refugee camps with little food until they were permitted to come to Clarkston. Luma learns another of her players was once forced to shoot a close friend. In addition to carrying horrible memories, many of the boys are prone to fighting among themselves because of their different races. The Afghan and Iraqi boys snub the African boys, while the kids from Northern Africa look down on the kids from other parts of Africa.
A young Christian woman from Nebraska, Tracy Ediger, learns about Luma’s efforts and begins to work with her. Together, they ensure the kids receive tutoring in their school subjects, as well as soccer instruction. Luma is a tough coach, insisting that her players work and run hard. One boy refuses to obey her rule about hair length, so she kicks him off the team. When the boys in the under-15 age group fail to show dedication to practice and study, she cancels their season.
Mandela and a Liberian refugee named Kanue convince her they can help her get the team back on track with new tryouts. Later Mandela and Luma have a falling out after Mandela fails to live up to Luma’s rules and expectations. With a heavy heart, she kicks him off the team.
The author reveals more about several of the boys’ families. He shares stories of their escapes from various dangerous nations and their struggles to support themselves in the United States. He also provides historical details about the conflicts that led these families to become refugees. He recaps some of the games the different Fugee teams played and talks about their efforts to come together as a team.
On the way to one game, Luma is driving her own car. Tracy is following behind, driving the Fugee bus. An officer pulls Luma over and says her license has been suspended. He tells her that Georgia law stipulates that he can arrest her. As the players watch — some becoming especially distraught because they’ve seen loved ones hauled away by the police — the officer takes Luma to jail. Tracy bails her out later that day, and Luma attributes the situation to prejudice because of her nationality.
The author also tells stories about ways Luma tried to bring joy and levity to these boys amid tough circumstances. One Halloween, she buys them costumes and busses them all to a nice neighborhood so they can trick-or-treat. On other days, she takes them to movies and has team parties.
The epilogue reveals that several of the former Fugees attend college and have academic success. Luma and Mandela make up, and she helps him chart a path for his future. Luma expands her programs to include a full-time school called Fugee Academy and adds soccer teams for girls.
Some of the refugee parents are Christians. They pray and say that God is good to bring them to America. One family leaves its country with other refugees when government henchmen try to force them to change their names and renounce their Christianity for Islam. Tracy comes from a devout Christian family, attends Christian college and volunteers at a Christian-run facility for refugees. One former Fugee now works with a pastor in his village in the Nuba Mountains.
Other Belief Systems
People from many religious background are represented in the refugee community. The author mentions the lack of freedom and opportunity available to women in Luma’s home of Jordan because of Islamic law. Islamic regimes cause many of the conflicts that propel these boys into refugee situations. Before a game, a Christian boy and a Muslim boy each say a prayer for the group. The group bonds over these multi-faith prayers, asking God for health and safety and to give them a victory if He sees fit.
The Lord’s name is used in vain several times. The words h--- and butt also appear. The author mentions refugees being killed, raped and having their children stolen. One boy is forced by soldiers to kill a friend. Others have seen friends and family members taken away and arrested. These experiences are not described in graphic detail. Gang members shoot off guns; a boy who supports Luma’s team is shot in the face but survives.
Get free discussion questions for this book and others, at FocusOnTheFamily.com/discuss-books.
Why is it important to refugee mothers like Beatrice that their children remember their trials? What are some of the sacrifices Beatrice and other moms make to get their children to America and keep them safe? Why is it important to remember and respect what has happened in your past or your family’s past?
Why does Luma demand so much of her players? How would you feel about being on a team she coached? When has a coach or teacher demanded a lot from you? What was the result of their efforts to push you?
What do the boys say when Luma asks them why people join gangs? What does she tell the boys about gang members who may try to convince them to do things for money or iPods? What ideas do the boys believe could be alternatives to gang membership? What types of relationships or activities keep you from taking part in illegal or gang-related activity? How could you help someone who was getting into trouble by hanging around with immoral or law-breaking individuals?
In the epilogue, why does Tracy say that it’s a bad idea to put Luma on a pedestal? What do she and Luma hope “normal” people will recognize about themselves from this story? What can you do to bring positive change to your community or your world?
In what ways does racism play a role in this story? Which characters suffer because of racial stereotyping? What preconceived notions do you hold about people from different countries or ethnic groups? How have you developed these ideas? In what ways can you demonstrate God’s love for all people in your actions and speech?
This book is a young adult adaptation of an adult book by the same author titled Outcasts United: An American Town, A Refugee Team, and One Woman’s Quest to Make a Difference.
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Readability Age Range
12 and older
Warren St. John
Delacorte Press, an imprint of Random House Children’s Books, a division of Random House Inc.
A Junior Library Guild Selection, 2013; Christopher Awards, 2013