A multiethnic group of Midwestern teenage boys contend with soccer and sexual identity in this coming-of-age novel.
Recently dumped by his college-age girlfriend, rising senior Sebastian Hughes nonetheless is looking forward to his final summer at soccer training camp, where he intends to become team captain and immerse himself in the game he loves with teammates who are like family. The arrival of Emir Shah, a handsome British-Pakistani recruit who happens to be Sebastian’s former best friend, throws him into a tailspin. Emir has talent but a bad attitude, and if he wants to bring his team together, Sebastian must find common ground with a player to whom he is attracted and who’s not quite ready to overlook their complicated history. The most beautiful element of Winters’ debut novel is the construction of the camp as a teenage mecca where gay and straight coaches teach the players that team cohesion only happens when they are comfortable with themselves. The author knows his subject matter intimately, and the easy jocular dialogue between the players feels completely authentic. While the third-person perspective occasionally feels awkward, the author’s earnestness, which pops off the page, more than makes up for it.
A heartwarming freshman novel from an author poised to be a modern Matt Christopher for an older audience. (Fiction. 14-18)