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A Pick From Pearl

On the face of it, Warren St. John's Outcasts United is the story of a boys soccer team and its female coach, but since the coach is Jordanian and the boys are refugees from a veritable United Nations of countries, it is also a story of immigration. I found St. John's book to be both inspirational and sobering: When I finished reading it I certainly had a better understanding of the complex issues surrounding the assimilation of refugees into the U.S., but I was also heartened by the fact that one person can, seemingly, make a real difference in the lives of others. In Outcasts United that person is Luma Mufleh, a young Jordanian woman who, after graduating from Smith College, settled in Clarkston, Georgia, a quiet suburb of Atlanta. She works with the local YMCA to fund a soccer program, and begins coaching a group of boys whose families have arrived (often traumatized by war or years in refugee camps) from countries such as Afghanistan, Liberia, Sudan, Iraq, and Kosovo, most speaking only the most limited English, at best. As she attempts to mold the "Fugees" into a successful soccer team, Mufleh comes up against the mayor of Clarkston and some of its residents, who aren't exactly thrilled that the U.S. Office of Refugee Settlement has, in its infinite wisdom, chosen their sleepy town to be the new home to hundreds of immigrants, but she also finds many supporters of the program. This is a fast-paced, well-told, and moving story; it's a good nonfiction choice for book groups. You can read it now (I hope you will) or wait for the movie now in the works.