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Outcasts United: A Refugee Team, an American Town Hardcover – April 21, 2009

4.5 out of 5 stars 168 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

St. John (Rammer Jammer Yellow Hammer) builds on his 2007 New York Times article about the Fugees, a soccer program for boys from families of refugees from war-torn nations who have been resettled in the town of Clarkston, Ga., 13 miles east of Atlanta. Led by the founder and coach Luma Mufleh, a strong-willed, Jordanian woman who turned her back on a privileged past to stay in America after attending Smith College, the three youth teams are a conglomeration of players from Africa, the Balkans and the Middle East. The challenges they face are many, including an ongoing fight against city hall for a field on which to play, and getting by with subpar equipment. Their biggest challenge, however, is the difficulty immigrants face in learning the ways of a strange land and living with the memories of tragedy (some players had lost a parent to violence or imprisonment). In spite of it all, the Fugees compete admirably with mostly white, better-funded suburban teams. St. John begins with an inspiring description of a beautifully played game and then delves into the team's formation, but his storytelling takes on the methodical approach of a long series of newspaper articles that lack narrative flair and progression. (Apr.)
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.

From School Library Journal

Adult/High School—St. John, a New York Times reporter, brought Clarkston, GA, to national attention in 2007 with a series of articles about the changes in the small Southern town brought about by an influx of refugees from all over the world. This book comes out of those articles. It gives more detail about the town and, most particularly, the three soccer teams composed of refugee boys (the Fugees) who were coached by Luma Mufleh, an American-educated Jordanian woman. The book is a sports story, a sociological study, a tale of global and local politics, and the story of a determined woman who became involved in the lives of her young charges. Keeping the boys in school and out of gangs, finding a place for them to practice, and helping their families survive in a new world all became part of her daily life. Engagingly written, this volume will appeal to fans of Larry Colton's Counting Coup (Grand Central, 2000), H. G. Bissinger's Friday Night Lights (HarperCollins, 1991), and Madeleine Blais's In These Girls, Hope Is a Muscle (Grand Central, 1996).—Sarah Flowers, formerly at Santa Clara County Library, CA
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.

This Book Is Bound with "Deckle Edge" Paper
You may have noticed that some of our books are identified as "deckle edge" in the title. Deckle edge books are bound with pages that are made to resemble handmade paper by applying a frayed texture to the edges. Deckle edge is an ornamental feature designed to set certain titles apart from books with machine-cut pages. See a larger image.

Product Details

  • Hardcover: 320 pages
  • Publisher: Spiegel & Grau (April 21, 2009)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0385522037
  • ISBN-13: 978-0385522038
  • Product Dimensions: 6.6 x 1.1 x 9.5 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.2 pounds
  • Average Customer Review: 4.5 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (168 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #585,800 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

By Bookphile VINE VOICE on April 17, 2009
Format: Hardcover Vine Customer Review of Free Product ( What's this? )
As someone who once worked for a company where I had colleagues who were refugees of war-torn countries, this book was personally relevant. Just as in the book, I was told the most astounding and frightening tales of what people did to survive on a day-to-day basis and how they were ultimately forced to flee their homes for fear of their own lives and those of their families. It really made me think of how lucky I have always been to have never had to face anything remotely like what they'd gone through. I had the same feeling when I read this book and St. John delved into the stories of the Fugees players and what they had gone through before reaching the U.S.

Perhaps the saddest part of this book is the reality that greets these people when they reach the U.S. It was sobering to read about how they were settled in apartment complexes where they lived next door to drug dealers and gang members. It was sad to think that these people had escaped the devastation of their homes only to end up in a totally foreign culture in which they'd face a lot of the same dangers. 1

It was also disturbing to read about their treatment at the hands of the police and the long-time residents of the town. I don't think St. John was trying to paint these people out to be evil. Rather, he showed how human fears of that which is different and misunderstood can really tear at the fabric of a society. These people struggle with trying to find a way to deal with the influx of refugees into their town. Sometimes their solutions are brilliant, such as the story of the local grocery store, and sometimes they are just wrong, such as the Fugees inability to find a decent soccer field near their homes.
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Format: Hardcover
How does a soccer coach find a practice field for her team? Google Earth.

But why, in a town that's not short of parks, is she looking for a field on Google Earth?

Because the mayor keeps issuing what seem like illegal orders to deny her team access to any of the lush local fields.

And why would he do that?

Because this is Clarkston, Georgia, a town of 7,200 a dozen miles from Atlanta. And the members of the soccer team are not only boys of color, they are foreigners --- Africans, mostly --- who have come to Clarkston as part of a wave of immigrants.

'Outcasts United: A Refugee Team, an American Town'is set in the feel-bad reality of a small town that never wanted to be the dumping ground for people fleeing conflict zones. It's a story of bumbling villains --- the mayor is a decent soul who's way over his head; the bad cop is the sort of jerk you can find anywhere --- and unlikely heroes. The first heroes are, of course, the Fugees, who overcome terrible memories, language barriers and unthinking prejudice to become --- against great odds --- a team. But at the top of the list is the team's coach: Luma Mufleh, who is, in her own way, also a refugee.

The boys are really the lesser story, because without the commitment and self-sacrifice of this exceptional coach, their team would never have lasted a year. So weep for their pasts. Cheer for their success. Worry about their futures. But reserve the standing ovation for Luma Mufleh. Born into privilege in Jordan, she graduated from Smith College and decided to stay in the United States. Her father's response was to cut her off. "No more money, no more phone calls. He was finished with his daughter."

So the Smith graduate got work cleaning toilets and washing dishes.
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Format: Hardcover
After reading "Rammer Jammer Yellow Hammer," Warren St. John's previous book detailing the personalities who follow the Alabama football team in their RVs during football season, I was looking forward to "Outcasts United." I anticipated another examination of the intersection of personal stories, cultural attitudes, and sport.
In this, I was not disappointed. "Outcasts United" does an admirable job of getting at the larger story surrounding a young soccer coach and her team of refugee players in Clarkston, Georgia. The boys' backgrounds of ethnic struggle, the reactions of a town once lily-white now coping with floods of refugee resettlement, the dangers posed by American gangs and violence... all detailed with the research and perspective that one would expect from a New York Times reporter.
But overall, I was slightly let down. For all the amassing of dates and details, I was left wanting something. Wanting to know more about the boys (epilogue not withstanding), more about Luna... the book felt like a mass of reportage lacking, well, a point. Following through a season (roughly, with previous seasons for build-up), which worked so well in "Rammer Jammer," didn't yield the same story arc. Whether the epilogue should have been given the time and attention to become a few more actual chapters for closure, or whether the narrative should have focused even more closely on fewer boys, or whether there just is no real arc to be sketched, the story seemed oddly jumpy at times, and incomplete.
That aside, there are passages that capture the joy and intensity of youth soccer, the fear and strangeness of refugee life, the clash between cultures and how that clash is at once resolved and never to be resolved. "Outcasts" is ultimately worth the reading, and its themes are certainly worth discussing. And St. John's byline is always worth watching for on the daily pages.
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