Tom lives in a semi small town in Maine. We get the idea that it is not very diverse until large numbers of Somali immigrants relocate there. Tom is a star soccer player. Due to the wave of new students, several Somali boys join his team. The boys, especially Saeed, are incredible players. The town has plenty of challenges, especially when the mayor writes and open letter in the paper to the Somali community. A number of people are not happy about the new members of their community, including Tom’s uncle. Tom gets in trouble for doing a prank on his school’s bitter rival. To make up for it he has to do community service. He does that service at a community center that serves the Somali population. He helps children with homework. Tom has a girlfriend that his parents don’t approve of. She is a bit of a bully to some of the Somali girls. Tom has to make some decisions about the kind of person he wants to be. When he meets a college girl who works at the center, it does help with the decisions. I was lucky enough to work at a library that served a large Somali population. I found Padian’s portrayal of the culture very authentic. The characters will be easy to relate to for young readers in both cultures. The part where Tom makes a huge cultural mistake is very painful to read because the aftermath seems so extreme. It is a good book to introduce tolerance for young readers. I highly recommend it. My favorite moment is when the coach has a talk with Tom and says this, “It’s hard to fear someone, or be cruel to them, when you know their story.”
Some ideas for discussing with teens:
Talk about what it must be like for a community with a rapidly changing demographic. Have you ever experienced something like this at your school?
Talk about how Tom broke up with his girlfriend.
Discuss the part on page 47 when Tom talks about “seeing an angel” when Saeed kicked the ball.
Discuss the conversation on pages 78-79 when the Somali students explain their culture.
Talk about how some of the students and teachers wanted an “English only zone.” Do you think this is fair? Why or why not?
Discuss Tom and Saeed’s relationship.
Discuss how Tom’s relationships with Myla and Cherisse.
Talk about the differences between Tom’s school and Maquoit.
Discuss Tom’s parents decision not to have Tom in the expensive soccer camp.
Discuss how Saeed’s sister, Samira feels about Tom.
Talk about the mayor’s letter in the newspaper to the Somali people.
Talk about the hug and the negative impact it had on Saeed’s family.
Discuss Samira’s letter and this passage on page 330. “She’s lucky not to be furious. Because she couldn’t control it. None of it: not civil war, not losing her father, not Cherisse Quellette, not Minneapolis, none of it. And yeah, its hurts and it’s hard. But raging only makes things harder. So she’s lucky to put that away and get on with her life as it is. She makes what choices she can, and she does it with grace. And hope.”
Talk about whether it is bullying if you don’t know the person.
Discuss this passage on page 254. “It’s hard to fear someone, or be cruel to them, when you know their story. And aren’t you lucky? Knowing all these stories that Alex never hears? Tom, the fact is, life isn’t fair and bad things happen to good people. But there are angels in this world, and sometimes the good guys win.”