Monday, August 9, 2010

Ask Me No Questions - Inclusive Literature

Budhos, Marina. 2006. Ask me no questions. New York, NY: Atheneum Books for Young Readers. ISBN 978-1-4169-0351-2

Plot Summary
This book offers the unique perspective of people who are living in America illegally. The story begins with the Hossain family driving to Canada to seek asylum. Unfortunately, the Canadian border is flooded with immigrants seeking asylum and the Hossain family is sent back to America. Since their visas have expired, Mr. Hossain is detained at the border to be investigated and possibly deported. For the next several months, the family is separated and must live not really knowing what will happen next. The uncertainty causes a shift in the family hierarchy and shows the main character just how important she is to the family.

Critical Analysis
While this story can be a little confusing at first and can move slowly in some sections, it is still a good resource for learning about different cultures. The main characters are from Bangladesh so the reader is given some background into the political strife found there that sent it’s people to the United States. We learn Bangali words such as doodh-cha (milky tea), shada-chele (white guy), and a few others. We also learn that the traditional dress for women from Bangladesh is shalwar karmeez or saris, bangles, and their hair in a long braid. Men wear long Kurtas and have a beard. Of course, the less traditional wear t-shirts and jeans and wear their hair in whatever style happens to be in fashion. The men often shed their traditional clothes for the uniform of their jobs. The Bangali are typically hard working and the characters in this story were of the Muslim faith though some were more devout than others. The women stayed at home but the more “enlightened” families allowed the females of the family to work part time and further their education. As one character put it, not all families paid close attention to the “gender crap.”

The book offers insight into the culture of an illegal alien living in America as well. These people work many different jobs, often two or three at a time, and are often separated because of work or legal troubles. The main character describes it as a feeling of floating from place to place, always being ready to move again. Sometimes, families are able to settle down for a little while but the threat of being found and the fear of deportation is always present. This book also shows how since an unregistered person is not a U.S. citizen, he/she is not entitled to the same rights. This novel definitely gives readers a sense of the uncertainty an immigrant, especially an illegal one, feels every day.

Professional Reviews
From Claire Rosser (KLIATT Review, November 2007 (Vol. 41, No. 6))
To quote the review of the hardcover in KLIATT, January 2006: There are thousands of illegal residents in the US, and those from Muslim countries have been targeted since 9/11. Budhos, who has written before about immigrant teenagers, here creates fully realized characters to help us understand the complexities of the immigration system. Nadira and Aisha are teenage sisters whose parents came from Bangladesh and stayed on in NYC with expired visas. The girls are successful high school students who know little of Bangladesh. After 9/11 the authorities are circling in to deport those who are in the US illegally, especially those from Muslim countries. In a panic, the girls’ father decides to drive the family across the border to Canada, where they will seek asylum. But when they get there, Canada refuses to accept them because so many others are swamping the Canadian refugee system, and when the family turns around at the US border, the father is arrested and taken into custody. The girls leave their parents in New England, where the father is incarcerated, and return to NYC to relatives to try to continue their schooling and hope for the best. Aisha is the older sister, the academic success, the one most assimilated--yet as the pressures mount, she is the one who falls into a depression and is lost in hopelessness. Nadira rises to the occasion, pushing forward with the immigration lawyer, discovering discrepancies in the government’s case against her father, pleading with the judge, never giving up. This is a powerful story, especially for those YAs who know something themselves about the immigration situation. Budhos doesn’t make heroes of the illegal immigrants, but she illuminates the reasons why families stay here, and she focuses on the children who have grown up in America but who are threatened with deportation because of the mistakes of their parents. She certainly is critical of the Patriot Act and its repercussions for immigrant families and especially Muslim families. (An ALA Best Book for YAs.) Category: Paperback Fiction. KLIATT Codes: JS--Recommended for junior and senior high school students.

This book could be connected to geography lessons of New England and Bangladesh. It could also be used to discuss the immigration process as well as the college application process.

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