Sunday, April 23, 2017

Hitting Her Goal: Ten A Soccer Story by Shamini Flint

Brazil is my favorite soccer team in the whole wide world, but I'm not Brazilian. I'm Malaysian, and I live in a small coastal town called Kuantan with my mom and dad and my brother Rajiv, who is older than me and a real pain

Once every four years, during the World Cup, I support Brazil. I feel Brazilian--because of the way the team plays soccer, like kids on a beach. Besides, Malaysia never qualifies for the World Cup--and I have to support someone.

Rajiv says soccer is a boy's game, but he hates it. Mom and Dad are too busy arguing with each other late into the night to care about who scores. So it's just Maya and the television, pretending to be Brazil's superstar Zico.

Maya feels like a minority everywhere. She is half-Indian, half-English, so she's not really Malaysian. Her grumpy Indian grandmother, Amamma, laments that she's too tall and skinny to find a husband, rich and beautiful and snooty Nurhayati at school won't speak to her, and everyone tells her soccer in a boy's game.

I am not Zico. I am Maya. I am eleven years old and I've never actually kicked a soccer ball. Not a real one. Not even once.

It seems so real, being out in the sunshine with the Brazilians. In this dark living room, the cane furniture,the whirring of fan, all alone in the middle of the night, watching the World Cup on television seems like a dream.

But Maya decides to give her dream a tryout. She wheedles her mother into buying her a soccer ball. Maya struggles with the moves that seem so effortless when her favorite hero makes them, but she keeps trying. She even talks her mom into standing in the middle of their little yard so that she can practice driving the ball around her. And when she goes inside to make dinner, Mom plops a potted rosebush down in her place.

Finally Maya thinks she is ready to take her ball to school and find someone to play with her. Nurhayati is quick to point out that girls don't play soccer. But then Sok Mun timidly offers to share a kick around with her.

Amazingly, a few other girls begin to join in the fun, and when at last Nurhayati asks to play, Maya finds that she has a group of ten, a real team. As the school year goes on, they play better and better and join a league. And when their goalie is hurt, her place is taken by the dark, stolid outcast of the class, Batumalar, who turns out to be a fearless tiger in the cage. Maya's team wins all their matches. And when Nurhayati's rich father sponsors her team and provides real uniforms--in Brazil's colors-- Maya is living her dream.

In the midst of her joy, Maya is saddened when her parents separate and her dad leaves for London. But when Nurhayati's father promises a prize for the team's most outstanding star--a trip to London for the championship games--Maya believes that if she can just get to London, she can convince her dad to come back. It's going to take a grand gesture, and Maya makes it in the center of the pitch at Wembley, in the middle of the game between Brazil and England.

They've all stopped playing now. I am still running for the center circle. The pitch is huge.

The crowd is yelling and cheering now. There's nothing soccer spectators like more than a field invasion.

I see Zico out of the corner of my eye. I reach the center circle.

I rip off my yellow jersey. Underneath is a white T-shirt I painted the week before, with big bold letters:


You win some and you lose some, in Shamini Flint's Ten: A Soccer Story (Houghton Mifflin Clarion, 2017). And although Maya fails to reunite her family, she learns the old lesson that it's how you play the game that makes the difference. Set in 1986, a world away in time and space from the vibrant world of women's sports today, Flint's partly autobiographical story of a girl whose love for the game changes her own home town is a poignant yet humorous story of school and family life, with characters that ring as true as our own family members, an accurate account of girls' lives in a time just barely past. Maya's gutsy and honest first person narrative hits home with issues girls face even today.

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