In many ways this book reads like a reboot of the author’s 2007 book Ask Me No Questions, there are sprinkled in references to Islamic culture, but nothing about the characters or the author truly show the book to be a Muslim story, or Islam centered. Much like Ask Me No Questions, the book is told through a female protagonist who is forced to figure out why a parent is detained, what to do now that they are on their own with a sibling, and figuring out why they are being forced to leave America if they are not undocumented, but asylum seekers. And much like that book, the protagonist is really whiney, entitled, and annoying, as is the mother. This 256 page middle school/young YA read draws drama from the 2019 Muslim ban and ICE raids, but is more a character based plot than a political focused telling. Because of the similarities to the earlier published book, and the lack of Islam in the text, and being unclear regarding the faith of the author, I’m just going to write a quick review and move on. The book is a quick read it has flashbacks to Pakistan and in those scenes mentions mosques, Eid, and Ramadan in passing. A few cultural side characters mutter an inshaAllah on occasion and there is a clear #muslimintheillustrations like side character that is remarked to wear a scarf on her head named Amirah, but is barely in the story. Worth being aware of for younger readers is romance, kissing, making out, between Rania and Carlos, and *SPOILER* that the mother left her husband for another man years earlier.
Rania is weeks away from high school graduation when an ICE raid casts a wide net and picks up her mother as collateral. Rania has always known they check in regularly to appeal their status, but with her journalist father killed years earlier in Pakistan, the family fled to America for safety, Kamal was even born in America, it has never been a concern. As her mother gets taken away, Rania starts to wonder about the secrets her mother has always kept and the truth starts to unravel. In the process though, protective services takes her and her brother to a shelter where they meet Carlos and escape. Once on the run, they attend Rania’s graduation, spend months on Cape Cod, gain protection from a congregation at a synagogue all while trying to piece together Rania’s truth.
WHY I LIKE IT:
I like that it touches on the Muslim Ban and the fear that gripped the nation for anyone in the process of being a citizen or trying to travel to the flagged countries. I wish it would have actually spent a bit more time on that. The title of the book makes it sound like the family is completely alone and isolated, yet, they are constantly surrounded by people that are looking out for them and sympathetic in their choice not to ask too many questions. I struggled with liking Rania, when you write a book about people that may or may not have broken a law, regardless of if you agree with the law or not, you really have to make it compelling. You have to get behind the character and their motives, and I never did. I did not understand why she for example finally finds her uncle or an aunt and doesn’t demand answers, it is like, I’m tired, I’ll nap and we will talk later, no, not believable. Additionally, I could not get a feel for the younger brother, I get that he is sheltered, but he reads like he is four years old, not that he is in second grade at best, I think he might be in fourth. Really all over the place. And the Rania and Carlos relationship, should have stayed awkward. They at times are like siblings, and when the line is crossed, Carlos even remarks on it, and I think having it be weird, but clear that they have a bond, would have been a much stronger choice. A lot of the plot holes make the story drag such as what was the problems at the bank for the uncle, but because it is short, I think older readers will get through it. I don’t think I’d suggest anyone read the book, but it isn’t so awful that I would warn too harshly against it. The characters don’t identify or act Muslim, so when they kiss or lie, it isn’t a reflection on the religion.
Kissing, lying, running away, making-out. Muslim friend sneaking out, drinking, partying, stereotypical oppressive Muslim dad and meek mom.
TOOLS FOR LEADING THE DISCUSSION:
I don’t know that I would throw the book out, but I wouldn’t actively seek to acquire it to shelve either.