________________ CM . . . . Volume XXIV Number 4. . . September 29, 2017


Team Fugee.

Dirk McLean.
Toronto, ON: James Lorimer, 2017.
125 pp., trade pbk. & epub, $12.95 (pbk.).
ISBN 978-1-4594-1205-7 (pbk.), ISBN 978-1-4594-1207-1 (epub).

Grades 4-7 / Ages 9-12.

Review by Ruth McMahon.

** /4



Ozzie cradled a well used soccer ball as he trotted onto the grassy field at William Hall Public School. He was now thirteen, and was followed by eleven other grade seven and eight Nigerian refugees. They all chanted:

Soccer is our favourite sport
Favourite sport, favourite sport, favourite sport

Ozzie stood in the middle as they formed a circle around him. He dropped the ball to his side and silently led their first stretching exercise.

Suddenly, Victor Bayazid, trailed by the Syrian soccer players, stormed through the circle. Ozzie’s and Victor’s group never played against each other, only among themselves.

“It’s our turn to use the field today,” Victor said.

“I don’t think so,” said Ozzie, straightening up. “Go back and check the schedule,” he offered calmly.


Ozzie, born in Nigeria, loses his parents to “crisis and civil unrest”, and he and his sister find themselves in an orphanage. The story opens with Ozzie and his sister Rebecca preparing to travel to Scarborough to live with their adoptive parents. Ozzie, in spite of an injury in a car accident that has left one of his legs shorter than the other, is crazy about soccer and is, by all accounts, a great player.

     Grade eight student Ozzie has a team of Nigerian refugees that is competitive with a team made up of Syrian refugees. An “Incident on the Field” (title of chapter 2) sets the plot in motion which leads to a grudge match between the two teams, “Ozzie United” the Nigerians and “Victor United” the Syrians. Ultimately, the teams come together as “Hall United” to play the “Division Champions” in an exhibition match and emerge victorious. The drama of the soccer battle is matched by Ozzie’s anxiety over his home situation where his mother is considering a new job which would take Ozzie and his family away from Scarborough.

     In addition to soccer and family, this slim volume touches on many topics, including physical disabilities, literacy challenges, adoption, orphans, civil war, racial profiling, and Black Canadian history.

     Lormier, the book’s publisher, says of its “Sports Series”: “Sports Stories are action driven sports novels that turn reluctant readers into all star readers! Plus, they feature characters with diverse racial, physical, mental, and economic backgrounds.” Team Fugee is definitely a sports driven novel which, as noted above, deals with variety of issues. I admire writers who tackle this niche market aimed at reaching reluctant readers and converting them into capable readers. Perhaps if I were a Soccer Mom instead of a Rugby Mom, I would find the soccer action more engaging and energetic and, therefore, find the plot more dynamic, but the plot is fairly predictable with all the ends neatly and happily tied up at the end. Having said that, a simple easy-to-follow plot line may be exactly what is desirable for this market.

     The characters were all very sweet, in spite of the odd misconception, and required little direction to rectify any undesirable issues that arose. Having spent nine years working in a middle school, the grade eight boys I encountered were more rambunctious, spoke more in the vernacular and did not have their lives work out as neatly as Ozzie’s. Once again though, I will defer to the intended audience where predictability and easy to understand situations may be desirable. The many social issues that are addressed are only briefly touched on (e.g. racial profiling pp. 82 83). I would have preferred having the characters grapple with one issue in greater depth.

     In the end, I am not sure Team Fugee will capture the intended audience. With its simple structure, superficial treatment of social issues, one dimensional characterization and everyday setting, it may be good for a novel study for a group of reluctant readers, but I do not think this book would capture a reluctant reader as an independent read. When I compare Team Fugee to some titles in the “Orca Sports” series, aimed at a similar audience, Team Fugee does not provide the action or taut personal relationships presented in those titles. However, if you are looking for an additional fiction book on soccer or are purchasing many hi-lo titles, Team Fugee would be a title to consider.


Ruth McMahon is a professional librarian working in a high school library in Lethbridge, AB.

To comment on this title or this review, send mail to cm@umanitoba.ca.

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