Saturday, June 23, 2012

Offsides by Erik Esckilsen

To Coach Dempsey, the Warriors teams and their Indian mascot symbolize the honor and glory of the Southwind High School athletic tradition. But soccer star Tom Gray sees little more than a denigrating cultural stereotype in the team’s mascot and the stern, war-painted Indian-head profile. As a Mohawk, Tom knows only too well the hardships Native Americans face in their struggle for respect. So when his father’s tragic death forces him and his mother to move to Southwind, Tom must make the decision of a lifetime: betray his family and heritage, or boycott Dempsey’s team and abandon the sport he loves.

(From Goodreads)

Genre: sports, contemporary

Rating: 4.5/5

Delightfully affective for such a short book, Offsides chronicles the struggle of Tom Gray, a teenage Mohawk dealing with the recent death of his father, his mother having to move with him to a new area and the biggest issue of all, having to decide how to handle the coach at his new school who fails to understand the offensiveness of the Native American mascot the team uses. This is harsh reality for Tom considering he's a star soccer player and loves the sport. Sticking with his beliefs rather than his love for being a soccer star, he makes an enemy of Coach Dempsey and soon finds himself the leader of a rag tag group of homeschool soccer players. The "geeks" are surprisingly non-stereotypical, as they're pretty good athletes and stick up for themselves. Tom finds a place in the group and finds himself drawn to Katya, a Russian girl who translates for their new "coach", the Russian owner of the novelty shop they gather at. 

The book very honestly deals with the issues that plague Native American reservations, from crime to poverty and you understand why the fight for taking down the mascot is such a personal issue about dignity for Tom and his mother. While Dempsey isn't trying to be disrespectful on purpose (and even proves to have a legitimate reason for wanting to keep the mascot), the mascot itself disrespects a people already hurting in many ways and fighting for respect. The book hints at, but doesn't address completely the fascinating aspect of Mohawk steel workers who have for generations worked fearlessly on highrise buildings and the author also shows a tantalizing, but unexplained understanding of the Russian football. The ending is a bit convenient with everything working out fairly well for Tom ultimately, but in using a sports novel to address bigger issues this book works wonderfully and doesn't fail to show a deep understanding of the game itself.

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