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New young adult novel inspired by Lewiston Somali refugees

Bangor Daily News
Tuesday, February 12, 2013
By Aislinn Sarnacki



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“Out of Nowhere,” by Maria Padian, Feb. 12, 2013, Random House, 352 pages, hardcover, $16.99.

New students are flooding to Maquoit High School each semester, and most of them only speak a few words of English. Changes are afoot in Ennison, Maine, the fictional setting for Maria Padian’s new young adult novel, “Out of Nowhere,” released Feb. 12.

Though Ennison can’t be found on a map, many Maine readers will recognize the town.

The novel’s plot was inspired by real events that occurred in the Lewiston area after Somali refugees began moving into the community in the early 2000s.

Yet it is the characters that truly run the story, said Padian, and they are completely fictional.

Ennison native Tom Bouchard, senior captain of the soccer team, doesn’t know what to think of the Somali newcomers. And quite honestly, he’s more concerned about filling out college applications, acing physics and spending time with his hot girlfriend.

But everything changes when Tom and his new Somali classmate Saeed share one English word, “soccer.”
“Many of the Somali kids I have met, particularly the boys, are playing soccer,” Padian said in a recent phone interview from her home in Brunswick, where her son and daughter, both soccer players, recently finished high school. “Sports generally, but particularly soccer, has been a wonderful way into the culture and for them to fit in.”

On a hunch, Tom encourages Saeed and a few other Somali soccer players to join the school’s varsity team — a move that transforms Maquoit into the team to beat. As the boys bond through soccer, Tom forms a new outlook on life, what’s important and how he sees his future.

“I wanted [Tom] to respond to this community the way an 18-year-old boy would when confronted by something completely out of his comfort zone,” Padian said. “He makes a lot of mistakes, but his intentions are good, and his heart is in the right place.”

To authentically portray Somali teens, she spent time speaking with people in the Lewiston area and sought out Somali refugees willing to talk about their lives in Maine.

“I started off by talking to adults, and many were very helpful, but because of what transpired in Lewiston, everyone came at it from a fairly politically charged level, advocating on some level,” she said. “It took a while, but I got the names of the right kids to talk to. Not only did they have to have relevant experiences, they had to have the English facility to really express themselves to me.”

At Tree Street Youth Center in Lewiston, staff introduced the author to Somali teens willing to spend time with Padian.

“I got very lucky, and I finally found a couple of kids who were very forthcoming and articulate and could give me a good picture of what was possible, what their relationships in school really were like,” she continued. “They gave me an idea of what my characters could and couldn’t do. So the scaffolding of the plot is modeled on actual events, but the people in the book are completely fictitious. I made them up.”

Though much can be learned from “Out of Nowhere,” it is only a peek into the world of Somali refugees living in Maine post 9/11, Padian said. The novel teaches some important lessons, but it’s also an entertaining story, filled with fun dialogue, teen romance and the special friendships formed early in life.

Padian also is the author of the young adult novels “Jersey Tomatoes are the Best” and “Brett McCarthy: Work in Progress,” which was chosen as an ALA-YALSA Best Book for Young Adults and received a Maine Lupine Honor Award and a Maine Literary Award.

“The first two books I wrote are narrated by girls, so this was a departure for me, writing from the point of view of a boy,” said Padian.

She prepared for the challenge by reading examples of teen male narratives. But what set her mind at ease was handing drafts to her son, 18 years old at the time, and daughter, 16 at the time.

“They’ve been very ruthless and helpful,” she said. “Right off the bat, they’d say ‘Mom, a kid would never say something like that.’ Or they’d give me the thumbs up.”

For information, visit the author’s website at mariapadian.com.



 





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