A tweenage American “diplobrat” with a disability finds her first international school travel team, in a country banning girls’ sports, sidelined by a terrorist bombing that catapults them into the expat boys’ soccer league. There co-ed, multicultural teammates must overcome sexism, ableism, racism, homophobia and plagues of locusts in a unique “counter-terrorist” soccer season.
Drawing from the author’s actual experience after Al Qaeda’s first bombing, narrator PAISLEY finds a savvy group of girls to help navigate her new hometown. Her international girlsquad of sideliners includes superchill Saudi ZARA, confident African-American Muslim MALIKA, clever Canadian ALLIE, sassy military brat EMMA and talented, Arab-American gender non-conforming SHIRA. When teamed up with the boys — affable Eritrean 9th grader IBRAHIM, flirty class clown MO, and the Saudi coach’s salty son FAHAD — cultures collide and re-combine.
At first, they’re a running joke —A Saudi, an American and an Eritrean ran on to a soccer field — playing in sexist cliques until IBRAHIM breaks his foot. His injury and plea that teammates draw on each other’s strengths kick starts change. Coach’s desert team-building activities and a team trip to a men-only skating rink, where the girls disguise as boys, reconfigure the team dynamic, and milestones like crushes, group dates and first periods occur along the way.
Finally, in tournament play, the team’s abundance of girls turns asset. Through a double-jointed goal and MALIKA’s perfectly timed Ramadan menstrual period, diversity slays the day.