Thursday, July 15, 2010

Summer Reading: The Boys from Little Mexico

Starting with this post, I'm going to be offering semi-regular reviews on a series of soccer books I've been reading lately. What can I say? I love reading. I love soccer. I love to read about soccer.

Anyway, we start off with "The Boys from Little Mexico," by first-time author Steve Wilson.

Now, when I first heard about this book, I immediately drew comparisons to "A Home on the Field" and "Outcasts United," both of which 1) deal with how soccer brings ethnic communities together, 2) provide the basis for a feel-good, made-for-premium cable miniseries, and 3), are exceptional reads.

However, within the first five pages of the book, I knew this one was different.

From the start, it was clear that this was a character-driven story, which is often hard to come by in sports literati. The storylines of the genre often focus so much on the action that the characters fall into obscurity by the end of the story. This book, however, puts its characters to work, and Steve Wilson's sharp, intelligent writing brings them to life.

The action is centered at Woodburn High School, a suburban school in Oregon, where Coach Mike Flannigan oversees the school's boy's soccer team, the predominantly-Mexican "Bulldogs" (or "Los Perros"). Flannigan, a former Bulldog player himself, is sort of the local boy returns to his roots-type person. As coach, he has successfully guided his charges to the playoffs every year of his tenure, but year after year, they fall short of the state championship.

But this story isn't about winning the coveted state championship. Instead of a re-hash of the season, the team's struggles, and how the team has to deal with the cutting ethnic remarks made by some of their opponents - important events, to be sure, but not major themes - we get vibrant pictures of Coach Flannigan, Omar Mendoza, a proactive parent, as well as Carlos and Octavio, a pair of players who apsire to attend college to better their lives.

Through their interaction, we learn about Flannigan's past as an adopted child, Mendoza's trials as a former high school dropout who becomes the surrogate father to nearly half the team. We discover that Carlos has bounced between foster homes for much of his adolescent life, and learn of Octavio's determination to find a better life for himself after crossing the U.S.-Mexico illegally.

This isn't your typical story about a team overcoming the towering hurdles. It isn't a tale about underdogs. It isn't about winning. It isn't about all of the tired sports cliches that we're bombarded with on a regular basis.

Rather, it's an introspective tale about very real people whose lives happen to bisect on the soccer field. It's about how they learn from each other. It's about reconciling one's past. It's about personal demons. It's about how some stories don't have neat and tidy endings. Some stories simply leave you with the characters as they are: unfinished works.

Steve Wilson's brilliant, evocative storytelling not only allows the reader into the personal lives of these characters, but also widens the lense of the world they live in. These characters are not perfect. They are only human. And it's that humanity that Wilson so wonderfully weaves into his writing that sets this book apart from its peers.

1 comment:

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