“It’s like he came out of nowhere.”

So begins Maria Padian’s engaging novel about the impact a young Somali refugee and his family have on high school senior and avid soccer player Tom Bouchard. Saeed, the new player in Tom’s small Maine town, may not yet be fluent in English, but he is a master of the language of soccer. And thanks to Saeed’s skills, for the first time the school’s team is winning. That is, until Saeed’s eligibility to play for the team is questioned.

As Tom learns, real life is not nearly as clear-cut as the final score of a soccer game. He finds himself negotiating new and unfamiliar territory—not only in his relationships with Saeed and Samira, Saeed’s sister, but with Myla, the progressive, outspoken young college student who volunteers her time with the Somali community. At the same time, Tom is torn by old loyalties, especially to his girlfriend, Charisse, and his troubled best friend, Donnie. But the more he gets to know Saeed, Samira and Myla, the more he finds himself growing apart from his old friends and family members—and their attitudes. 

Negotiating this new cultural landscape is not easy for Tom or his new Somali friends. Maria Padian’s third novel for young adults includes well-drawn characters and a compelling story with sports themes that will be especially appealing to male readers. Most of all, the author is not afraid to show us that there are no easy solutions—and that even simple actions, no matter how well-intentioned, can have serious cultural consequences.

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