An undocumented Mexican in the United States aspires to become a professional soccer player and, along the way, discovers who he is.
Manny was born in Chiapas, Mexico, but he and his parents crossed the border into Texas without visas when he was young, and he largely grew up in the Lone Star State, which he considers his true home. Despite his intellect and literary inclinations, he eventually became exasperated with school, leaving home at 18 to pursue a soccer career. He landed in a low-division team in San Antonio, mistakenly assuming that his position came with compensation. He found work at a local Wal-Mart and later played on two other teams in San Francisco and Mexico, after he became documented and could safely cross the border. He encounters considerable trials—a debilitating injury, a difficult marriage, and his mother’s death. But he presses on, goes back to school, and becomes a nurse’s assistant, and after his soccer career ends, he becomes a high school teacher. When his father dies, he finds out what compelled his family to move to the United States. The meat of the story, though, is Manny’s struggle with an unsettled identity—he never feels fully American or Mexican, which is only further muddled as he raises his American son. Turner (Real Madrid & Barcelona, 2013, etc.) has previously written about soccer for the Guardian and other publications; his expert knowledge of the sport is evident throughout, and it gives the story a near-journalistic authenticity. Sometimes the prose is strikingly evocative: “His shin snapped like a twig over the defender’s knee. The sound of the breaking of bone echoed like a gunshot.” However, the plot vaults backward and forward in time so hastily that it sometimes causes confusion, and toward the end of the book, the narrative is replaced by a series of apparent journal entries by Manny that are more disjunctive than illustrative. The novel as a whole, though, is richly drawn—a moving bildungsroman and a thoughtful reflection on what it means to lack a settled sense of self.
An often affecting, if sometimes needlessly fractured, tale of maturation.