Borderline by Allan Stratton ARC
Release Date: March 9, 2010
IQ "What does evil look like, Sami? If monsters looked like monsters, we'd know who to run from. But they don't. The scariest monsters look like family and friends. They're the ones that get you. The ones you trust. You let them into your heart, and then it's too late. They've got you." Sami (his thoughts) pg. 200
In Borderline, Sami Sabiri's father has been arrested because the police think he is involved with an international terrorist organization, based in Toronto (Sami and his family live in New York). There are few Muslims in Sami's town and he's the only Muslim at his private school and on top of all that, he's beginning to suspect that his father may in fact be a terrorist.
I picked the above quote to use for the IQ because the scene is a captivating one, it's when Sami really starts to question whether or not his father is innocent. Also, some of the worst monsters are the ones who hurt their families (abuse, robbery, murder, etc). The author does an excellent job in describing Sami and his pain. Sami is a sarcastic teenager who can be a bit of a jerk and he's an immature guy too. But when it really gets down to it, Sami steps up to protect his mom while the FBI and the news teams and paparazzi swarm their house and while his father is in jail.
The idea behind this novel is powerful, sometimes I think we live in a paranoid society that jumps to conclusions too quickly (i.e. all Muslims are terrorists so we must arrest them and keep them for further investigation). My heart broke when Sami suspects his father is a terrorist. The evidence does not look good and the author keeps you guessing as to whether Sami's father is innocent or guilty. I was not expecting the end result and I guarantee that no readers will predict the ending. Another great aspect of the novel was friendship. Sami has two friends but you are constantly questioning whether or not they are really Sami's friends. Sami's first name is Mohammed (his middle name is Sami) and his two friends, Andy and Marty call him "the Prophet." His parents think this is extremely disrespectful (I agree), so Sami asks his friends to call him Sami (which is Arabic). They settle on Sammy. "The day my name changed is the first time I realized that The Truth and The Whole Truth aren't necessarily the same. And how even a simple thing like a name can mean different things to different people." (pg.16) However, they do have their shining moments and they mature by the end of the novel as does Sami. I also liked that Sami's parents are nuanced characters, they don't just melt into the background. Obviously the father can't sink into oblivion but the mom has a presence as well and Sami's relationship with his parents is completely authentic.
The only thing I didn't really like was that I never got a feel for New York, Sami's home. I'm presuming he lived in a mostly white suburb since he's the only Muslim (obviously he couldn't be anywhere near NYC). Also and this is a minor quibble but Sami refers to the bathroom as "the can". (ETA: In the comments below it was explained to me that 'the can' is used in New Jersey and New York. So now I know!) I've never heard that expression so I'm wondering if it's a New York thing? Also Sami visits Toronto but I never got a real feel for the city either. (ETA: as pointed out by the author, he does talk about Little India and that was quite vivid and I liked learning about an ethnic neighborhood in Canada, Toronto specifically). I think the author could have given a few more details on the locations Sami visited since they are important. Finally, I'm a bit tired of the cliche one teacher who is so inspirational and is always there for his students and then something tragic happens to him/her (but the author did give him an interesting background that isn't key to the plot but it adds some diversity in a subtle way).
Borderline is enthralling. I read it one day, anxious to get to the bottom of the mystery. Sami's biting sense of humor will have you smiling in the tensest of moments and the author doesn't completely immerse you in Muslim culture, it's casual, information is slipped into conversations. The minor characters are never flat, we receive details about them that bring them to life and make them part of the bigger picture, the diversity of Muslim culture is shown here. Sami is an unlikely hero (he can't even stand up the bully at his school) and that's what makes him so endearing. I would definitely recommend this book, the story is an important one and it has some levity in the darkest of moments. 7th grade and up
Disclosure: Received from publisher. Thanks Jana!
PS Beware of people named Mary Louise Prescott (this incident made me laugh but it's also quite sad and ignorant). Sami explains certain events as "before Mary Luise Prescott" or "after Mary Louise Prescott." If you've read the book, did you laugh or were you saddened by the event? (I laughed)