Tom is a popular high school senior, dating the most gorgeous girl in school, captain of the soccer team, and getting straight-As. His hometown, Enniston, Maine, has long had a contingent of Somali refugees, with more and more showing up all the time, and as a leader at the school, Tom occasionally help stragglers find their way to help, and he's thrilled when some talented boys join the soccer team, particularly Saeed who plays soccer like an angel.
After a stupid prank against the rival high school, Tom has to do community service, and ends up helping smaller kids with homework at a community center focused on Somalis. There, he meets a passionate and smart college student, Myla, who makes him realize his own girlfriend, while pretty, is otherwise vapid and occasionally mean. He gets involved with the refugees on a level he hadn't expected, and when Saeed disappears in a bad storm, he does whatever he can to help, but he might end up hurting more than he helps.
Tom is a great kid. He manages to be both smart and popular. He stands up to the super-popular kids (his girlfriends' friends) in a way that usually works out. Although he does sometimes let his longtime best friend (but sadly, turning into a burnout) get him in trouble, overall he's a leader in the student body who is a good example to the other students and who seems to like everyone. This is an atypical YA character, but I knew guys like that in high school. In fact, I remember the school-wide shock when the top ten in my class were announced and one was a popular partier, and the other was (we had thought) a heavy metal burnout. Interesting how some of the smartest kids fly under the radar. But Tom isn't afraid to do what's right, even when it will have a social penalty. He's loyal and hardworking. He doesn't have any problem with the Somalis. While prejudice appears around him, he generally is a voice of reason and non-judgment. It's great to read a message book where you're not hit over the head with the message, and where the protagonist isn't even the one who needs to learn the lesson--it's people around him who does. Don't get me wrong--Tom isn't perfect and he does learn to be even more understanding of the Somalis' difficulties, and his understanding of Islam and of prejudices and of religious versus cultural proprieties is deepened during this time, but it' s very nice how non black-and-white the lessons are. They're much more nuanced and mature. The ending also isn't pat although loose ends are tied up, and I think more mature teens will appreciate that. I think this is a terrific YA novel that all teens should read, both for the great example of Tom and for the messages of tolerance.
I checked this book out of the library.