A tweenage American “diplobrat” with a disability finds her first travel team at an international school in a country that bans girls’ sports sidelined by a terrorist bombing, which catapults them into the expat boys’ soccer league. There, co-ed, multicultural teammates must overcome sexism, ableism, racism, homophobia, fasting, plagues of locusts and stick-toting religious police 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, a sweet subcontinent goalie, and the conservative Saudi coach’s salty son FAHAD — cultures collide and re-combine.
At first, they’re more of a running joke —A Saudi, an American and an Eritrean ran on to a soccer field — playing in sexist cliques until popular IBRAHIM breaks his foot. His injury and plea that teammates learn from 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.
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.