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From as far back as I can remember the allure of soccer has been hard for me to withstand. While I consider myself to be a fan of sports in general, certain games seem to transcend the monotony of all the rest. For me, soccer fits into that category. Thus, it was somewhat natural and logical when I recently picked up Phil West’s documentation of the premiere U.S. soccer league (i.e., the MLS)—The United States of Soccer.

Phil West makes a considerable contribution to the somewhat scarce amount of information concerning soccer and the fans who support it in the U.S. In large part, this is due to West’s outstanding credentials as a soccer journalist and his outspoken commitment to the propagation of the sport. In other words, his professional background definitely helps to push the agenda of this writing. Yet in addition to this, West’s credit as a fan places a lot of stock into the worth of this book as well. Many times a reader can find him/herself being ushered into a story that is dictated not by a journalist covering the minutia of a required story, but rather by a fan living out a desirable experience—it just so happens that this fan has the credentials and talent that allow him to document those experiences for the world to access. For me, this is one of the most enjoyable components of this text, as it allows me to share in the wonder and awe that the sport has to offer via the experiences of an avid watcher.

At the center of West’s treatment of the MLS and its fan base is what he identifies as the culminating event that resulted in the formation of the league. This event is what West labels “the promise.” In 1988, the Fédération Internationale de Football (FIFA) agreed to allow the 1994 World Cup to be hosted by the United States. However, there was one major stipulation required in order for this to happen—the U.S. needed to develop a top tier soccer league. A major hindrance to this was the recent demise of the North American Soccer League (NASL). As the most successful league in American history was making it’s exit, the idea of a prominent premiere league in the U.S. seemed doubtful. Yet, The United States of Soccer is a record of the story that somehow broke through the doubt, resulting in the modern-day incarnation of such a league. While America has a long way to go before being able to stand toe to toe with international powerhouses in the sport, the MLS has turned into a competitive league whilst creating an environment that supports avid fanbases.

Phil West takes the reader on a somewhat chronological timeline of the major events and major figures that contribute to the formation and history of the MLS. While there is an order to the events and circumstances surrounding this soccer league, West also takes liberty to interject the impact that these events have on current trends in the sport. So, while it is a chronological telling of the history, it also jumps around a bit in terms of voice and narrative. Part of this is due to the overwhelming amount of information provided. I will make note, however, that while much information is provided, West seems to deliver it well, as he disregards jargon often associated with the sport and uses a vernacular that is easy to comprehend for the layperson.

A strength behind this work is West’s ability to present a story. The stories in this book are truly what make it such a delightful read. In every page, there is a narrative that leads to the next. Again, this makes for an easy read, and for the most part, an enjoyable one. Major figures in sports (e.g., Lamar Hunt) show their faces in many of these stories, allowing individuals with little to no interest in the sport to find some kind of resonance with the contents. In addition to this, all of the prominent figures working behind the scenes and in front of the cameras during the building of this league make their appearance as well. This was another delightful aspect of the book, as West provides stories that are relatively unknown to the common fan (or outsider) about figures they are familiar with. One such story centers around the prolific winger/forward, Landon Donovan. While many fans are aware of the name, many may be unware of the fact that he made his MLS debut the same year that league almost folded (2001). Surrounded by the turmoil of 9/11, the overwhelming consensus in the league was one of fear and dread. Yet, through a series of events, the league withstood and eventually even expanded. Additionally, figures like Landon Donovan proved that Americans can take a place on the international stage as well.

West does well to provide his readers with a lot of inside information. Loaded with ample amounts of research and experience, West crafts a genuine and authentic piece of work that truly does give voice to a growing tradition in American sports. As stated before, no one reading this book will be disillusioned after reading it. Readers will maintain awareness of the long road that lies ahead of the sport and its fan base in the U.S. Yet, I believe that soccer fans, as well as “not-yet soccer fans” can find some valuable entertainment in this easy and quick read. The United States of Soccer is available to borrow at the Joplin Public Library.

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Echo

By Pam Muñoz Ryan

Some books are big. A book with many pages may have this stigma attached to it, as could a book that is bound in a particularly large cover. Working in a library, I hear many individuals comment on the “bigness” of a book. “Wow! That’s a huge book!” Recently, a book crossed my path that not only falls under this umbrella of big due to its size and length, but also due to another factor: its impact. The juvenile fiction novel, Echo, by Pam Muñoz Ryan certainly does well to meet this last-mentioned criterion.

 Echo has a form and style that is unique and inviting. The author does well to keep her audience captivated from start to finish. She does this by engaging the reader with a large story arc that is connected by various smaller stories. The book begins with a tale of discovery, as a boy named Otto uncovers a story and a harmonica in a forest. Otto then comes face to face with that story as he becomes lost in the forest, only to encounter a trio of protagonists that mystically appear—three sisters who seem to come directly from the story Otto has just uncovered. From here, the larger story begins to take shape. The significance of mystery and wonder, as well as the overarching theme of music is introduced in Otto’s dialogue with the three sisters. All of this sets the stage for a dramatic shift to occur in the story, a shift that will take place three different times and that will span three different generational time periods and three different geographical locations.

 In essence, Pam Muñoz Ryan tells one larger than life narrative by utilizing the vantage point of three different characters: Friedrich in Germany, Mike in Pennsylvania, and Ivy in California. Throughout these various stories, the main character remains the same: a captivating harmonica that seemingly finds its way into the hands of passionate musicians who are all interconnected in ways that are never fully realized by the individuals. Through her powerful attention to detail, Muñoz Ryan narrates a driven story that addresses many themes that are easy to relate to and that seem to transcend time and circumstance. She deals with political controversy, as Friedrich finds himself in the middle of Hitler’s rise to power. She deals with issues that are surrounded by the loss of loved ones, and the struggle of discovering one’s place in the world as Mike and his little brother Frankie find themselves in an orphanage after the death of their parents and grandmother. She also deals with racism, as Ivy is confronted with its harsh reality during the process of moving to a new community that views cultural heritage differently than she is used to. Throughout it all, however, there stands in the middle of these issues a solution to overcoming adversities: the power of music.

While not every reader will identify themselves as a musician, Muñoz Ryan takes advantage of the seemingly ever present realization that music plays a part, in some way or another, in the lives of most people who inhabit this earth. By using music as a median, she gives her readers something they can relate to as she wrestles with the thematic issues addressed above. Couple this with her ability to spin a story, and this novel has the potential to be a pretty big book that leaves a pretty big impression on its readers.71aK5tVGXsL