North American teens join an impoverished Paris suburb’s American football team.
After a present-tense opening in which Matt, Free, and their French teammates unintentionally draw aggressive police attention, the prose jumps months backward and into the past tense. Tired of doing what his wealthy mother wants, Montreal quarterback Mathieu—Matt—hops a plane to Paris to play on a French friend’s American football team. The team, made up of marginalized local teens, primarily of North African descent, is allowed two foreign players. The second one recruited is defensive back Free, an African-American exchange student from San Antonio. The lengthy setup delays the football, but once the team’s assembled, Matt and Free work hard alongside team captain Moussa (known as Moose) to turn the scrappy underdogs into winners. But despite growing friendships, they can’t ignore the class and racial discrimination their teammates face, which the North Americans don’t. Subplots—such as Matt’s mild, innocent romance (which contrasts starkly with an early scene of youthful voyeurism)—serve to enhance empathy with characters. Authors Wright and journalist Bouchard, who met playing football in Paris and draw on experience for detailed authenticity, pull no punches in addressing racism and social ills, effectively presenting a complicated situation with no simple solution. Once the story catches up with the present tense, tensions brew into irreversible, violent disaster.
Timely, nuanced, and highly respectful of readers’ intelligence. (author’s note) (Fiction. 14 & up)