Books like Steve Wilson's The Boys from Little Mexico (Beacon Press, June 2010) are exactly why I want to go into publishing. I've had a lifelong obsession with beautiful writing and compelling narratives, and more recently, I've developed a passion for works of art and literature that promote true understanding among people and groups who might not otherwise come into contact with each other. The Boys from Little Mexico is one of those rare gems of literary non-fiction that both exhibits excellent writing and opens the reader's eyes to the lives of fellow human beings.
Chronicling the season of an all-Hispanic high school soccer team, The Boys from Little Mexico is about so much more than sports. Perhaps most importantly, it is about the meaning of sports for the players and coaches we meet while reading it. Some of these boys knew that a soccer scholarship was their only shot at a four-year college education; others acknowledged that soccer gave them a reason not to drop out of high school. But on a more abstract level, soccer had the potential to give them a vision of success, a feeling of self-confidence, and a commitment to hard work. But, consequently, losses on the field sometimes seemed to portend weightier, life-altering losses.
Anyone who wishes to understand the nuanced and so very human elements behind immigration and education policies should read this book. Meet Octavio, who as a young teenager made the decision to make the dangerous trek across the Mexican/American border with no papers and go to school and play soccer in the U.S. Meet Carlos, who had to be taken from his birth mother when he was 5 years old and watch out for his younger siblings in three different foster homes before graduating from high school. Meet Coach Mike Flannigan, an Irish-American who continually seeks to understand his players better and help them succeed both on and off the field.
But even though this book deals with important, heavy issues, it doesn't feel like one of those books we all know we "should" read but don't really want to. On the contrary, the writing is quite engaging. On multiple occasions, I wasn't able to put the book down after I got off the subway so I kept reading it while walking to work! Even though I'm not really a sports fan, I was drawn into the fast-paced soccer games and even found myself holding my breath to find out if the ball would successfully make it between the goal posts. Steve Wilson manages to write these scenes in a way that soccer fans and neophytes alike will be able to visualize and experience the games much as they would if they were actually in the stands (and in the case of neophytes like me, we understand what's going on much better than we would if we were just watching a game). Similarly, Wilson's descriptions of political policies bear immediate relevancy to the lives of those in the story and, as such, manifest the complexities and importance of these issues while advancing the book's enthralling narrative. I highly recommend The Boys from Little Mexico to anyone who cares about education, immigration, sports, or just a really good story.