Beautiful Books: Out of Nowhere by Maria Padian

From the dust cover flap: Some guys have all the luck. At least, high school senior Tom Bouchard does. Top of his class (currently number three) and top of his game (soccer), he’s the guy with the hot girlfriend and even hotter college prospects (if he ever gets his applications done). But here’s the thing about luck: it changes. And Tom’s idyllic life quickly gets turned upside down when he least expects it.

His hometown becomes a “secondary migration” location for Somali refugees fleeing their war-ravaged homeland, refugees Tom hasn’t thought much about until four of his new Somali classmates join the soccer team. The best is Saeed, who comes out of nowhere on the field to make impossible shots. And, thanks mainly to Saeed, the team is winning. Dominating even.

So when a jealous rival team questions Saeed’s past—and eligibility to play in high school—the winning streak that seemed too good to be true might be just that. And Tom is left to grapple with a culture he doesn’t understand, and a hometown that has been changed forever.

I could not put this book down, and not just because it’s a microcosm of what’s going on in our country right now. I couldn’t put it down because I wanted it all to work out. I wanted the haters to get their come-uppance, and everyone else’s hard work to pay off.

I won’t tell you whether or not I got what I wanted, but I will tell you: this book is worth staying up late to finish.

Tom, the main character in Out of Nowhere, is NOT a diverse character by current standards. He’s the great-grandson of French-Canadian immigrants, but he’s white, middle-class, fairly popular, and smart-without-really-trying. He’s got that privilege thing going, but he’s also reasonably aware of it—some of the time. Tom is a brilliant blend of contradictions, and that’s what makes his narrative so compelling. One minute, he’s using his white privilege to help Saeed gain a spot on the soccer team, the next he reflects on how frustrating it is that Saeed only knows a few soccer-related phrases and can’t really carry on a conversation.

But Tom’s contradictory worldview extends to everything. He criticizes his best friend Donnie for his beer-and-marijuana-induced bad decisions…but still lets Donnie drag him into a prank that could ruin his future. He recognizes his Uncle Paul’s close-mindedness, but admires his dedicated work ethic. He dates one of the prettiest girls in school, but describes her in terms that make it clear he doesn’t like her as a person. Is Tom aware of his own opinions? Does he know what he really believes? What he really wants?

Tom’s view of those around him—townies, college students, refugees, and rivals from the wealthy town next door—are a perfect reminder that none of us are one-dimensional. We are all contradictions. We are all figuring out what we believe, who we are, where we fit, and where we want to go.

The big question is: are we willing to accept that we might not know as much as we think we do? Are we willing to listen, and accept that it’s okay to not understand yet, as long as we keep trying to understand? Are we willing to let our world expand in unexpected ways?

There’s a Sunday-brunch scene in Out of Nowhere that reminds me of a Christmas Eve tradition my family had when I was growing up: we always placed an extra setting at the table, in case anyone knocked at the door needing a place to stay the way Mary and Joseph had. I remember asking my mom once, What if more than one person knocks at the door?

We’ll make room, she said.

For March 8: M or F? by Lisa Papademetriou and Chris Tebbetts

On March 15: A guest post by Theresa Milstein, author of the upcoming release Time and Circumstance.

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