Thursday, November 22, 2007

Floating Below the Surface: Ask Me No Questions by Marina Budhos

"If I say something angry, I should never be surprised by the harm. And if I say something good, then it is like watching my own garden grow, and that is the greatest pleasure ever. That is what Aisha and I are doing. Our future. Everything careful and chosen well so the shoots come up strong and straight."

Living on expired tourist visas, sisters Aisha and Nadira and their family exist in the shadow world of illegal immigrants, working overtime, excelling in school, and always, always, swimming below the surface of public notice. But dishonest and incompetent lawyers have taken their father's carefully saved money and failed to gain legal residency for them, and in the time after 9/11, when all Bangladeshi resident men are forced to register, the Hossain family flees to Canada hoping for political asylum. Swamped with applicants, the Canadians turn them back after they cross the border, and when they try to re-enter with their lapsed passports, their father is jailed by the INS. While he waits for a hearing, their mother sends the girls back to live with their aunt and uncle and attend school, sworn to tell no one of their Abba's detention.

Nadira, at fourteen, has always lived in the shadow of her slim, beautiful, and brilliant sister Aisha, who is on track to be senior valedictorian and begin pre-medical studies at Barnard. A good but not outstanding student, Nadira is overweight and slow to act, and at first Aisha takes the lead in rounding up documents that can exonerate her father of any suspicious activity, but when the long wait and the growing fear of deportation finally overwhelm Aisha, she lapses into a deep depression, unable even to go on with her studies. Unused to taking the lead, Nadira is forced to manage their father's defense to preserve their dream of a good life in America.

After much struggle, Nadira obtains information that proves that her father is the victim of mistaken identity, the result of an error involving one letter of his last name. She is then able to prove that suspicious contributions to a Muslim fund were savings for their college education, and at his long-awaited hearing the judge allows her father to resubmit his application for legal residency.

Ask Me No Questions, an ALA Notable Book for 2007, tells the moving story familiar to many immigrants through the honest, vital voice of a child who comes of age in the crucible of the clash between her family's hopes for a better life and the letter of the law.

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