It is kind of remarkable now that I look back on the book, that before reading it, I knew exactly what was going to happen based on the jacket flap synopsis, yet somehow the book held my interest and I finished it easily. There were no surprises, no plot twists, not even any amazingly poignant passages, yet, I kept reading, so there is some merit, perhaps in ideas, even if the story line wasn’t meticulously crafted. At 390 pages, this 4.8 level AR book is not for elementary or even middle school readers, it is a high school and up for content understanding and appropriateness.
The dual storylines are told from the intertwined perspectives of Mina, a Muslim refugee to Australia who fled Afghanistan in a boat, and Michael, an Australian upper middle class high school student whose parents run an anti-immigration group and oppose the arrival of refugees. The two see each other on opposite sides at a protest, and reunite when Mina earns a scholarship to a prestige posh school, and the family moves so that she can attend. Naturally the two clash, then fall in love. Along the way there are slight changes as the characters grow, some side stories about friends and family members, and like the title suggests, crossing of lines, so to speak.
WHY I LIKE IT:
I like that the book in terms of its political plot is actually pretty nuanced. You could say it is framed as a good vs. bad, but it isn’t that simple, and I think the characters shed light on the gray area in between. In many ways Michael changes and grows and challenges himself to go out of his comfort zone created by his family. He forces himself to see where immigrants live, he steps foot in a mosque, he researches the detention centers and what not, to learn that he doesn’t agree with his parents. I wish, however, that all of these scenarios would have been slightly more memorable, maybe an interaction at the mosque, or follow-up by talking to Mina about it. The lack of reflection made his journey seem like he was changing his views for a girl, and not because of a deeper understanding. At the end his mom even asks him about it, and I kind of had to side with her in wondering about his motives. Mina’s personal growth is more in that she learns to trust new people, and let them in. Her growth is not as obvious as Michael’s and I think some would put her on the “good” side and see her as a stagnant character. She is greatly shaped by the death of her father and brother, by the escape and journey to Australia, and then having to move again for school, but in the course of the books timeline, she really doesn’t change much. Her Islam is really culture, she doesn’t pray, or mention anything about her belief or faith. Halal is not explained, but is just seen as a political tool to protest and argue about. Mina never goes to the mosque, and even for religious reasons never questions if she should have a boyfriend, but worries what her mother will say and thus does keep it secret. For all realistic purposes, she is portrayed as a Muslim as a political identifier that illicits stereotypes and assumptions by others, not as a description of what she believes, behaves, or thinks. Michael’s parents are where the real meat of the story for me was. Understanding how they see themselves as “not racists” ordering ethnic foods from all over, but actively working to keep non-assimilating foreigners out. Their organization claims to promote the idea of upholding Australian values, not of disliking other countries values, and I think this is really what so much of the world is facing right now. The ethnocentric idea of being so great and understanding in words, but not in behavior and policy making. Michael’s dad goes overseas and feels sad, but doesn’t feel compelled to help, rather than to keep those people from changing, “his” world. As the book mentions a lot, his parents in other ways are kind, good people. It really isn’t good against evil in all facets of life.
I think my favorite part in the book are the female relationships. I love Mina’s friend Paula, who quotes Oscar Wilde and while on the outside has it all together, lets Mina see the real her. She is smart and feisty and seems to stay genuine throughout. I like that Mina’s friends from the “old neighborhood” are still in her life and I even like how close she and her mom are. It’s nice to see females helping each other, there is power in that, that fiction helps remind readers about.
There is mention of sex, nothing explicit, but side characters hook up, are accused of being sluts, and it is definitely there. The main characters kiss regularly. There is some swearing and lots and lots of lying. Mina can’t go out after library hours because that is where she says she is, when she is elsewhere. There is fighting, alcohol, clubbing, and smoking mentioned throughout. None of the aforementioned flags are glorified or even praised, but all are there.
TOOLS FOR LEADING THE DISCUSSION:
I wouldn’t do this as a student book club, but I think it could be done as an adult book club. The politics need some background and understanding, that I think some discussion would be enlightening in a community or larger society setting. Sometimes even in the real world, meeting people different than ourselves does wonders for changing preconceived notions and stereotypes.