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American Heart

by Laura Moriarty

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513410,802 (2.8)1
Imagine a United States in which registries and detainment camps for Muslim Americans are a reality. This is the world of fifteen-year-old Sarah-Mary Williams of Hannibal, Missouri. Sarah-Mary, who has strong opinions on almost everything, isn't concerned with the internments, as she doesn't know any Muslims. She assumes that everything she reads and sees in the news is true, and that these plans are better for everyone's safety. Then she meets Sadaf, a fugitive escaping to Canada. Should she turn her in ... or help her?… (more)

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I read it because I, as a librarian and a writer, was troubled by the noisy and hostile reaction to it. I still am, and the number of "reviewers" here who have slapped 1 or 5 star ratings on it while proudly proclaiming that they have not read it and don't intend to appall me.

So yes, I read it. And will confine my observations to the conclusion that its main weaknesses are writerly and not political/social. A political/social statement, even with good intentions, doesn't make for good writing. Hard as Moriarty tries to inject complexity into characters (the rhinestone cowgirl in an obscenely expensive sports care plastered with anti-Muslim hate stickers who also makes quilts out of dead people's clothes as mementoes for grieving families, for one), they feel contrived and forced, to Make A Point. Other reviewers have trashed her "world-building" as lacking in detail or consistency; I will defend it to the extent that it does suggest the insidiousness of where our xenophobia could be leading us. Some reviewers admired and connected with Sarah-Mary, while others have called her a "horrible, horrible person." I found her reasonably acceptable as a product of her environment.

BUT... for all the good intentions in the world, the utter passivity of Sadaf, an adult, highly-educated woman, placing her life entirely in the hands of a random teenager just passes my ability to suspend disbelief. She weeps, she suffers, she shuts up and does whatever Sarah-Mary tells her. I kept waiting for her to come to life, to take some control, and she never does. There are clumsy, endless info-dump conversations solely for the purpose of explaining Islam to the uninformed. I understand that Moriarty did seek the input of several Muslims on her manuscript, so perhaps the content of those conversations was technically accurate, but Sadaf still seems to serve as a cardboard-cut-out Muslim and not a fully-realized, believable person of her faith and culture. Moriarty tries too hard to fit it all in there: black people, check; Jews, check; gays, check (she even gets two-fer on that one); rednecks with guns, check.

And the plot... sigh. The never-ending breathless sequence of perils from which our plucky heroine always manages to escape seems to be a required trope of YA fiction, and quickly gets tiresome. And [spoiler, and I don't even care] the great last-second, miraculous moonlight rescue by the best friend from hundreds of miles away? Please.

Are readers justified in hating on this book? Sure, if that's how they feel - AND if they've read it. Do I think Moriarty should not have written thisbook? Absolutely not - she (and any other writer) can and should write anything she wants, and people can read it or not as they choose. I just wish she'd written a better one. ( )
  JulieStielstra | May 17, 2021 |
I appreciate that everyone is entitled to their opinion. I would like to thank all of the negative "reviewers" of this book for bringing it to my attention. I am very excited to read this book and form an opinion based on actual facts. Ms. Moriarty, I would love to read your book and give it a fair review on Goodreads. I find it appalling that so many people are jumping to conclusions. Also, that so many people take FICTION so literally. Can we all agree that fiction is make-believe? ( )
  dms12880 | Nov 29, 2018 |

Imagine a United States in which registries and detainment camps for Muslim-Americans are a reality.

Fifteen-year-old Sarah-Mary Williams of Hannibal, Missouri, lives in this world, and though she has strong opinions on almost everything, she isn’t concerned with the internments because she doesn’t know any Muslims. She assumes that everything she reads and sees in the news is true, and that these plans are better for everyone’s safety.

But when she happens upon Sadaf, a Muslim fugitive determined to reach freedom in Canada, Sarah-Mary at first believes she must turn her in. But Sadaf challenges Sarah-Mary’s perceptions of right and wrong, and instead Sarah-Mary decides, with growing conviction, to do all she can to help Sadaf escape.

The two set off on a desperate journey, hitchhiking through the heart of an America that is at times courageous and kind, but always full of tension and danger for anyone deemed suspicious.

416 pages
Published January 30th 2018 by HarperTeen
ISBN 006269412X (ISBN13: 9780062694126)


I was provided with this ARC in exchange for my honest review.

This book is written from the perspective of a white, teen around the age of fifteen who was raised in the southern part of the United States. Her beliefs about race are tainted from society's prejudices and bias subjected to her while growing up. She claims to be an atheist, but you could tell she basically said this because it's the popular thing to say, and this attitude is reflected in all her beliefs and thoughts throughout the book. In the beginning, her character shows all the teenage quirks, behaviors you might see in a typical teen from the south, but, by the end of the book, her character has changed drastically.

In my mind, we are all human, that is our... race. Among this human race is a variety of cultures. This world is full of cultures and differences in beliefs, lifestyles, religion, dress, family dynamics, etc. However, we are all human. I strongly believe that we should embrace our differences and learn from them, celebrate those things that make us unique and stand out in a species that covers this planet. I tell my daughter who is special needs, "that it is better to be different than to be like all the rest. This makes you unique and special, and there isn't anything wrong with that. Besides, being like all the rest was boring."

Unfortunately, in this world there are those who don't embrace uniqueness as something good, but rather, they fear those differences because they don't understand them. There are a lot of things I don't understand about the human race, especially the hatred and cruelty shown everywhere for those who are shunned and misunderstood. I don't understand their 'why,' or how they can justify their actions that stem from violence.

I think this book is important to literature because it shows a darker side to the human race that really needs to be addressed. Racism and repression against cultures has gone on forever. If it's not Muslims, its Jews, Japanese, Mexicans, African Americans... I could go on and on. If racists don't understand a culture, they fear it, or they make up reasons to hate it through assumptions, bias, prejudice and racism. They tend to group all from a culture together in one lump, the good with the bad. What they don't realize, is that this is something that could be applied to the white culture too.

Throughout history, books have been written about the conflicts stemming from racial bias and prejudices. The need to repress those who don't conform to what society dictates as 'normal,' has been around since the beginning of time. Books about Germans against Jews, Americans and Canadians against the Japanese during WWII, Palestine against Hebrew, men against women, Black against White, White against Black... books about slavery in different countries including the USA. These are all things that have been written about over the years: To Kill A Mocking Bird (1960), Roots(1976), The Sound of Music (1965), the list goes on and on, so that we don't forget what we are capable of. Books during Stalin's rule, books during Mussolini, Hitler, and other historical tyrants' reign, they all discuss issues of repression because of differences.

Look at the KKK against African Americans, the mentality of these people, strongly shown in "The Mississippi Burnings." and the recent attacks shown in the media. All hard reads, full of content hard to wrap your brain around and accept, but full of truth about the human race and its nature; its shortcomings in acceptance, compassion and understanding.

Society has created a nation of hate, fed by social and racial tensions. We know it exists, see it in the news, yet we've been taught not to discuss it, shove our heads in the sand and ignore it. To write about it???? That's pushing it too far! This is giving us humans no choice. We have to acknowledge its existence if written in a book? And when we do, what do we see--something we are less likely to like about ourselves. White, brown, pink, purple, green, yellow... humans are faulted and capable of being quite 'ugly.' Some times, uglier than others. We don't limit our ugliness to just other humans either.

People need to read these books, to learn from past mistakes so that they don't redo them in the future. Those who haven't lived during the genocide of Jews by Germans must read about what happened in order to appreciate the importance of not repeating or allowing a repeat of such heinous acts committed by Nazis (Schindler's List). Here's other books to read if interested:http://remember.org/campsbk.html To condemn a book simply because there's a fear of promoting a phobia is ridiculous. Make educated/enlightened decisions. Books like this one are good conversation starters and as long as people are talking, they're not warring?

In this book, I wish the characters were more exposed to the reader, to show the inner workings of their minds. I love the premise and the author's voice. Sure, there were sections that I didn't appreciate, like calling Canada "the new America." Sorry, this country is taken. I can see how other Americans will get their backs up after reading this book; it doesn't really show the USA in a good light, but have you turned on the television lately? It's getting scary in the USA.

In the 1940s, camps were used in both Canada and the USA to hold the Japanese community in one place after Pearl Harbor's attack. Japanese People were moved to camps because there was a fear born from racism. If one group of Japanese dared to attack the USA/Canada, would the others too? Never mind those in question were born and raised in the USA/Canada. They looked like the others, they must be like the others... And out of fear, comes hate.

http://www.ushistory.org/us/51e.asp American Camps
https://www.thecanadianencyclopedia.ca/en/article/japanese-internment-banished-a... Canadian Camps

In this book, I thought the plot moved along well, transitioning from one point to the next smoothly with many plot twists along the way to keep the reader intrigued. I loved seeing Sarah-Mary's character development. However, I felt Sadef's character could have been expanded on more. She didn't seem fleshed out enough. For one thing, the fear she must have felt when she was so close, so many times, to being identified and captured... that had to be far more difficult for her than what was written.

The complexity in writing the interactions of racists against Muslims was diminished, except around the altercation and resulting death of a veteran protecting two Muslim families. I didn't find this scenario believable. In this day and age, if those against Muslims were able to find out the location of this house, then where were the protestors for freedom and human rights? They are always present at any protest?

This was a huge undertaking and I can see how some of it would irritate and upset people. I give the author a lot of credit for attempting this topic. Does this book promote phobias? No. I don't believe it does. I think it covers a topic that makes people self-examine their own beliefs and fears and that puts them outside their comfort zone. There are flaws, but I would still recommend that you read this book if for nothing else, then to form your own opinion.
I give this book: ( )
  JLSlipak | Feb 6, 2018 |
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Imagine a United States in which registries and detainment camps for Muslim Americans are a reality. This is the world of fifteen-year-old Sarah-Mary Williams of Hannibal, Missouri. Sarah-Mary, who has strong opinions on almost everything, isn't concerned with the internments, as she doesn't know any Muslims. She assumes that everything she reads and sees in the news is true, and that these plans are better for everyone's safety. Then she meets Sadaf, a fugitive escaping to Canada. Should she turn her in ... or help her?

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