CM . . . . Volume XXIV Number 9 . . . . November 3, 2017
At first glance, Dirk McLean's novel seems like your usual coming-of-age novel about a 13-year-old Syrian refugee, Victor Bayazid. However, it is much more than that. It deals not only with Victor's transition into maturity but also with his trauma and grief surrounding his Grampa's death during his family's immigration to Canada.
Victor begins the novel as an immature and hotheaded boy who storms off the soccer field when a member of the opposing team trips him but neither his coach nor his teammates believe him. After he leaves the game, he meets Michael Bridge, a soccer coach who offers Victor a spot on a soccer team for Syrian refugees, one that would play a tournament in Vancouver with other teams like theirs from across Canada. After meeting with Coach Bridge, Victor's parents let him join the team, and Victor is made captain and goalie of the Greater Toronto Area Gazelles. Victor's teammate, Raja, causes Victor trouble because he believes that Victor shouldn't be captain. Even after the truth about Victor's walkout on the field is revealed, Raja still gives Victor strife. Despite Raja's and some of his teammates' doubts, Victor strives to be a good captain to his team.
Throughout the first part of the novel, readers learn that Victor's Grampa was killed on the way to Canada while running to get a ball that Victor had accidentally kicked onto the highway. Victor believes his father blames him for his grampa's death, and Victor blames himself as well. Victor's guilt is made even worse when, just before the GTA Gazelles leave for Vancouver, his younger brother, Gabriel, is hospitalized with pneumonia because he went sledding with Victor and his friends. Victor wants to stay in Toronto to be with Gabriel, but he leaves with his team at his family's urging.
When Victor arrives in Vancouver for the tournament, he is reunited with his friend Abbas, someone he knew from his immigration to Canada and someone who is also in the tournament. During their time in Vancouver, Victor and Abbas reconnect, and Victor is able to open up to his friend about his grampa's death and the guilt surrounding that and Gabriel's illness. This sharing helps Victor to resolve his guilt surrounding the accident. The GTA Gazelles then face Abbas' team in the final match of the tournament, and the Gazelles win. Victor's struggles to be a good captain and to let go of his guilt are both resolved, and he is reunited with his family where Gabriel is now healthy.
Victor's coming-of-age story tackles far more than the average one does. Victor grows with his team, and he learns to let go of the past and his guilt. Gabriel's illness reenforces Victor's guilt and his sense of responsibility to both his family and his team. Victor learns to reconcile these seemingly opposing forces and to forgive himself. McLean's novel handles heavy topics like immigration and refugee status, responsibility, guilt and illness beautifully. His writing doesn't shy away from the reality of these topics, but it is not overwhelming for readers, and the novel's characters handle their struggles believably. Victor's transition from the boy who storms off the field when he is wronged, to the young man who stands by his team no matter what and leads them strongly, goes beyond his growing into a leader. His story is rounded out by his personal growth. Tournament Fugee is an important one because of the subjects it deals with.
Deanna Feuer, an English Literature graduate from the University of the Fraser Valley, lives in Langley BC.