Tuesday, September 5, 2017

Spotlight on #OwnVoices: The Lines We Cross

by Randa Abdel-Fattah. Scholastic Press, 2017. ISBN 978-1338118668. Click here to purchase.

Michael and Mina are 11th graders in Sydney, Australia. Michael is White; Mina is from Afghanistan. One day Michael spots Mina at an anti-immigrant rally (his father is a leader of the far-right “Aussie Values” group; she is a counterprotester with a sign reading, It’s Not Illegal to Seek Asylum). Soon thereafter Mina appears in Michael’s class at ultra-posh Victoria College. At first Michael and Mina are at odds, with Michael spouting out things he’s heard from his folks (of his beliefs, Michael says, “I wear my politics like hand-me-down clothes: Some bits feel like they don’t fit properly, but I expect I’ll grow into them, trusting that because they’re from my parents they’ve come from a good source”) and Mina understandably taking offense. But Michael and Mina grow closer, eventually bonding over their love of indie music and school assignments. They begin to develop complicated and strong feelings for each other. Bit by bit, Michael begins to discard articles of the “hand-me-down clothes” he inherited from his ultra-conservative parents, and he and Mina fall in love.

Chapters alternate between Mina’s and Michael’s first-person narratives. Both voices ring true. As a White cishet male, I myself have never been subject to microaggressions. Reading about Mina’s experiences as a young Muslim woman in overwhelmingly White spaces was eye-opening and painfully realistic. Each tiresome interaction serves as a mirror for young readers from marginalized groups while providing a window into a different experience for those readers who, like me, have the privilege of not having to worry about loaded questions like, “Where are you from?” Abdel-Fattah also succeeds in portraying a White cishet male who has to make some tough decisions, but does so with thoughtfulness and empathy. In this way Michael is something of a model for how White people can move beyond binary thinking and take part in meaningful conversations with family and friends.

The Lines We Cross would be a great title for high school literature circles – the format, the plot and characters, and the timely topic would make for great discussion. Don't sleep on this one.

Reviewed by Sam Bloom


Beverly Slapin said...

Thanks, Sam, for a great review! I love Randa's writing and look forward to reading THE LINES WE CROSS. One thing: Muslims come in all ethnicities and are not necessarily non-white.

Sam Bloom said...

Thanks for that important distinction, Beverly. And yes: her writing is wonderful. This is the first book of hers I've read, but it definitely won't be the last. Thanks for reading!