Author: Deborah Ellis and Eric Walters
Publisher: Fitzhenry and Whiteside
# of Pages: 240
This review is for an advanced reader's copy.
Favorite Line: "We obliterate Rutherford. We do it with our minds, and when the show is over, we shake their hands, show them respect, and let them go on their way. Why can't all battles be like this?"
A student arrested on suspicions of terrorism. A high school torn apart by racism. Two boys from two different sets of circumstances forced to choose sides.
These are the issues at the heart of Bifocal, a groundbreaking new novel for young-adults.
The story is told from two different points of view. Haroon is a serious student devoted to his family. His grandparents emigrated from Afghanistan. Jay is a football star devoted to his team. He is white.
One day their high school is put on lockdown, and the police arrest a Muslim student on suspicion of terrorist affiliations. He might be guilty. Or is he singled out because of his race?
The entire student body fragments along racial lines and both Haroon and Jay find that their differences initially put them at odds. The Muslim students become targets and a smoke-bomb is set off near their lockers while Jay and his teammates believe they've been set-up to look like racists.Bifocal is, by no stretch, an easy book. Award-winning authors Deborah Ellis and Eric Walters deliver a serious, hard-hitting book about racism that does not talk down to young people.
FINALLY- a book review!! And I'm thrilled to be reviewing such an excellent and important book. Bifocal is a novel geared to young adults (what really defines a "young adult" for reading purposes?). As stated in the book description above (though I have small quibbles with the second-to-last paragraph), it is not an easy book. It does not talk down to its readers. It hits hard, early on, and doesn't let up. It asks so many important questions, confronts so many significant issues, and does it all- very, very well- in less than 300 pages.
I grew up "brown" in America- though my entire high school experience took place before 9/11. I think it must be different now. However, I thought the authors were spot on in their assessment of American high schools- even the labels they use for student groups (such as the brown kids who like to think that they're black) are perfect. High school is full of prejudices of all types. Insecurity is everywhere, and even in a diverse area, there is segregation of all types. The authors caught that nuance and dealt with it gracefully.
The authors also dealt with the race issue in a superb manner. Yes, there are ugly scenes in this book- some that filled me with horror and disgust. Even so, those scenes were realistic. The authors are aware that they are dealing with a "young adult" readership that has experienced much more and lost so much of its innocence by age 14 that it is useless and stupid to try to act as though the world is a perfect and safe place in literature. It is not. But that doesn't mean that it can't become a better place.
And that's where Bifocal really shines, in my view. Neither of the two main characters is perfect, nor are they really flawed. They are two wonderfully normal boys trying to navigate through high school without bothering anyone. They make mistakes. Horrible ones. They laugh at racist jokes. They have parents who make derogatory comments.
They're also totally real and easy to relate to. And, somehow, after 250 pages of racism and fear and drama, the book manages to end on a thoughtful and hopeful note that will have everyone cheering.
If I had a child, I would have him read this book. I would read it with him. I think it's an EXCELLENT book to foster discussion about cultural differences- there are so many parts that make you think, that make you wonder, and that make you second-guess what YOU would do in the situation. It is, in my opinion, a very important book to be published, and I hope it garners the recognition it deserves to bring the subject matter into the spotlight and garner discussion.