I mentioned The Lines We Cross in my reflections on the Ottawa Book Blogger Meetup. It was in my goodie bag and I thought it would be a good ARC to start with, not only because it released this week, but also because it’s timely. It fits in a larger discussion about Islamophobia and immigration, and I wanted to see how those subjects would be tackled in YA.
Micheal is the son of anti-immigrant parents. He enjoys hanging out with friends and experimenting with graphic design software, but he also finds himself helping his parents with their political goals. He works on their social media accounts and website, and generally accepts their views of the world. That is, until Mina shows up at his school.
Mina is a Muslim refugee from Afghanistan who’s earned a scholarship to the prestigious Victoria College. To attend, her family, which has only just begun to settle in to Australian life after considerable hardship escaping their homeland, uproots and moves across Sydney.
As tensions rise, the two find themselves at odds and must choose where they stand. For Micheal, this means deciding to follow his parents’ lead or to forge a new path. For Mina, it means keeping herself and her family safe while navigating new friendships and maybe even more.
Let’s get into it…
The Lines We Cross is a breeze to read. The dual narration makes you want to keep going. Plus, there’s lots of dialogue – much of which is debate – so it goes by quickly. What’s the debate about? Well, if you follow current events or are active on social media, you’re probably familiar with much of it. It’s about immigration, refugees, and nationalism. Author Randa Abdel-Fattah is a expert on Islamaphobia, so you can bet the book attempts to unpack a lot.
Micheal’s parents and friends believe that Australia should worry about Australia first. They think refugees should wait their turn and assimilate once they get in the country. Mina came to Australia as a refugee and has seen first hand the hardships refugees face. She is understandably angry by the Islamaphobia and racism she, and those like her experience. She’s fierce and her unwillingness to let ignorance slide forces Micheal to evaluate his beliefs.
Though Micheal’s character development throughout the book is admirable, I’m a bit disappointed that it came about because of romantic prospects. There are attempts to claim the romance wasn’t the reason for Micheal’s change of heart, his first thoughts on seeing Mina at a rally dwell on her appearance. He is clearly attracted to her from the get go. So, I have to wonder if he would have been so willing to question his beliefs if she wasn’t a “beauty.” But then again, maybe it’s just my regular bias against romance…
As far as “issues books” go, this one was pretty decent. It didn’t quite meet the bar set by Angie Thomas, but it still made me think. Plus, the Australian setting was refreshing, since much of what I’ve read has been from a Canadian/American perspective. Abdel-Fattah isn’t overly didactic and she does a good job of outlining the different aspects of the debate. From the pro-immigrant and pro-refugee, to the pro-immigrant but hesitant, to the downright hateful, the novel presents many points of view. It just goes to show that racism and prejudice can and does exist within all kinds of people.
I think that’s where the real strength of this novel is, in showing that intolerance can and does come from those closest to us, from those we view as “good” people. It’s uncomfortable, but important to speak up when those we love hold harmful views. That’s what I took from this novel.
Final verdict: The Lines We Cross is a thorough and thoughtful look into immigration and Islamophobia from the dual perspectives of characters initially on opposing sides of the protests lines.