CM . . . . Volume XVI Number 21. . . .February 5, 2010.
Toronto, ON: HarperCollins, 2010.
298 pp., pbk., $14.99.
Grades 8 and up / Ages 13 and up.
Review by Michelle Superle.
Reviewed from Uncorrected Proof.
Andy recognizes an old man down the pier and gives a wave. The man waves back.
I turn away. “Who’s that?”
“Dunno. But I’ve been waving to him since I was six,” Andy reassures. “Just chill, okay? Nobody gives a damn who we are or what we’re doing. Look normal and you won’t draw any attention.”
Right. For a lot of guys like me, normal would be rolling out a prayer rug about now. Then watch that old man give us a friendly wave. He’d be waving for Homeland Security is more like it.
Borderline, a young adult thriller by Allan Stratton, does an excellent job of exploring what happens when individuals are judged not for who they are, but rather for the group to which they belong. The lesson, a profound one, is to weigh the evidence carefully and consider an individual’s qualities of character, but the presence of a lesson does not impede Borderline from providing page-turning excitement sure to entertain many adolescent readers aged thirteen plus.
In his post-911 life in northern New York State, Sami Sabiri, 15, has plenty of problems: his strict Muslim parents put a crimp in his social life by requiring him to attend their prayer sessions several times a day and refusing to allow him to participate in all the activities his best friends do. Much worse, though, he is viciously bullied at his pretentious WASP private school, frequently called derogatory names or even physically assaulted. But things get even worse when he begins to suspect his father is having an affair and worst of all when the evidence that causes Sami to conclude his father is a philanderer then causes the FBI to conclude his father is a terrorist. Sami’s life is turned upside-down when his father is incarcerated: he must cope with his mother’s anguish, his friends’ confusion, and his own suspicions, tormenting himself by trying to decide which crimes his father may have committed. Ultimately, he takes an incredible risk to attempt to vindicate his father, one that pays off in ways he never could have imagined.
While some of the more fantastic events in Borderline have the over-the-top ring of the thriller genre, like all good thrillers, it is emotionally realistic and convincing. Sami’s life, both in his “normal” reality before things explode and in the aftermath, seems believable, making him an “average” yet compelling teen. The plot moves smartly, deftly combining the off-hand “cool” tone of YA fiction with the narrative twists of the thriller into a satisfying whole. As with many thrillers, characterization and description are underdeveloped, but this only serves to keep the pace swift.
The message of Borderline, along with its focus on an “average” Muslim family coping with American life in the aftermath of September 11, make this novel a good candidate for many possible curriculum tie-in projects.
Michelle Superle recently obtained her PhD in children’s literature from Newcastle University (UK). She teaches in the Children’s Studies program at York University.
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