Wednesday, February 6, 2013

Out of Nowhere by Maria Padian

Out of Nowhere by Maria Padian tackles the issue of post 9/11 prejudice toward Muslims in America. In this soon to be released young adult novel, Somali war refugees are pouring into Enniston, Maine. This working class town can barely house the impoverished families let alone educate the shell-shocked children, who barely speak English. Ethnic tensions flair when the mayor makes a plea in the newspaper to discourage Somalis from inviting more family members and friends to her overwhelmed community.

As the teenaged protagonist reflects, "You gotta wonder who the genius was that came up with the plan to put a bunch of Africans in Maine, the coldest, whitest state in America."

For Tom the issue becomes personal when a legal challenge is made to block Somalis from playing varsity soccer. His team's best player, Saeed, is Enniston's only hope for beating their rich, entitled rivals from Maquoit. Other problems ensue when the fasting month of Ramadan falls in soccer season and also when Tom is made to do 100 hours of community service tutoring Somalis after he vandalizes Maquoit High School. As Tom struggles to understand a foreign culture, he begins questioning his own values and those of his family, friends, girlfriend and neighbors.

All the characters were well developed and multi-dimensional, with the sole exception of Tom's girlfriend, Cherisse. I couldn't believe that a smart, empathetic boy like Tom would date a mean girl only because she was hot, but then again, I'm not a teenaged boy. Myla (a college student) and Samira (Saeed's smart sister), who volunteer with Tom, were more compelling female characters. Tom's Franco-Maine family was also well portrayed. The writing was pitch perfect for teens:
"He [Saeed] pronounced each word hesitantly. As if it were a new food he was tasting for the first time." 
"The other two guys? I didn't know them, but word from Ismail was that they were dipshits, too. So what we all knew was that the fight on the bus had nothing to do with race or religion. It was pure asshole-ness. Of course 'Assholes Fight' is not a newspaper-selling headline in the post-9/11 world. 'Ethnic Tensions Flare' sure is." 
"You know, Captain, outside of your family I doubt anyone much cares where or whether you go to college," Myla continued. "But as a healthy, smart white male growing up in one of the safest, most prosperous countries in the world, you know what? You have a moral obligation to do something worthwhile with your life and not be an asshole. Just sayin.'"
Some readers might be put off by the swearing and underaged drinking in the opening pages, but this book is deeply grounded in morality and in religion, both Islamic and Catholic. There are consequences to reckless behavior, and the characters eventually learn from their mistakes. Some problems, however, are less easily resolved, reflecting the real world.

The Somali diaspora and a mayor's plea in the local newspaper happend for real in Lewiston, Maine back in 2002. Author Maria Padian, who has a background in journalism as well as in young adult fiction, spent weeks in Lewiston and in Portland getting to know Somali families and the community volunteers. In the real world, Maine is making progress. Somali students at my children's school are well integrated and are thriving in a tolerant, supportive atmosphere.

I read Out of Nowhere in 24 hours; it was that hard to put down. The story was richly textured and beautifully rendered. Here is real Maine, not "vacationland." I'd strongly recommend this book to teens as well as to adults. The complex themes would make for fascinating classroom and book group discussions about race, religion, immigration and class differences. It teaches toleration without sounding preachy.

Out of Nowhere will be reviewed in The New York Times Books section this coming weekend. The book and ebook will be released next week on February 13th, 2013.

Disclosure: Maria Padian is a friend, and I borrowed an ARC for review on my request. I'll be buying a hardcopy at our town's independent bookstore. Brava, Maria!

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@Barrie Summy

18 comments:

Jane and Lance Hattatt said...

Hello Sarah:
Since our departure from the classroom,we no longer read teenage fiction to any degree at all. However, we do feel that should we have been still teaching, then 'Out of Nowhere' would have been an excellent choice for both its readability and its tackling of these complex and often entrenched issues. From what you write here, we have every confidence that a good level of discussion and debate would be promoted and opportunities for personal reflection given full sway.

tina said...

It sounds like the premise was taken right from today's news and not just past news in Maine. Assimilation seems to be happening everywhere and it is not always an easy thing for anyone.

A Cuban In London said...

Another brilliant review. On this occasion I have made a note of the novel and author to recommend both to the Somali parents at the school where I work. There are roughly 1600 Somalis in my neck of the woods living in households where most parents (women) are single. War and displacement have wreaked havoc on this community and literature (even if it's a work of fiction) serves as an important bridge to get to understand this rich and varied culture. Many thanks. I really loved this post.

Greetings from London.

Stacy Nyikos said...

This one sounds good. I read Flight Patterns, or rather, am listening to the audio, after reading your review. Awesome book. Pretty depressing, but really well written. I'm looking forward to this one!

Pamela Terry and Edward said...

Intriguing. I'll look out for this one.
Bravo for buying yours at your independent bookshop!
xoxo

walk2write said...

I don't usually read YA, but this book sounds interesting. I like the fact that it challenges stereotyping of place as well as the people that inhabit it. America's melting pot isn't as easy to stir as some people would have us believe. Another great review, Sarah!

Sarah Laurence said...

Jane and Lance, how wonderful to hear that you were once teachers and that this book would work well in the classroom.

Tina, I wish the type of racism and cultural insensitivity described in this book were fiction. This book feels very rea.

ACIL, I’d be curious to hear the reaction of British Somalis to this book and whether they are facing similar issues in London.

Stacy, good to hear you’re enjoying Flight Behavior. I would love to hear your reaction to OUT OF NOWHERE as it sounds like your type of book.

Pamela, it will be out in bookstores next Wednesday. I’d love to hear what you think of it.

W2W, the adult characters are fleshed out too as is the community. The book was written for older teens and would crossover well to an adult audience. Do let me know what you think of it. I like your comment about the difficulties of stirring the melting pot. The book also discusses French immigrant assimilation in earlier times.

Gloria said...

I love this review Sarah!

Carol said...

Very Interesting Sarah and you make it seem an important book to read. As always your brilliant reviews inspire one to want to go out and buy the book . . . and YES to supporting independent bookstores!

openid said...

This does sound like a great book for a classroom discussion!

You know the most varied collection of authors, Sarah!

Great review, as usual. :)

Alyssa

troutbirder said...

Most interesting... and strikes close to home here. Rochester, Minn mostly upper middle class white some decades ago (think Mayo Clinic and IBM) recieved a large influx of Somalis. There have been problems but the city has faced up to them and is working hard on being a city of diversity and welcoming...

Booksnyc said...

Thanks for introducing me to this book - it covers an interesting topic.

Elizabeth Musgrave said...

You really make me want to read this. I wonder if it is on kindle....wanders off to look.

Sarah Laurence said...

Gloria and Carol, thanks!

Alyssa, including authors like you. Perhaps the unifying theme is good writing and imagination? I enjoyed your review too.

troutbirder, in this book there actually is a tie in to the Somalis in Minnesota. It is ironic that Africans ended up in such cold climates.

Booknyc, I thought you'd like the immigration theme.

Elizabeth, it will be available on US Kindle on Feb 12th, but I'm not sure about the UK. I am seeing the print version in amazon.co.uk.

Ellen Booraem said...

Great review, and this sounds like a must-read. I'll order it through my independent to make sure it's on their radar.

I remember the Lewiston mayor's letter and the brouhaha it caused. How wonderful that it gave rise to a good book! No experience is ever 100% bad.

--ellen, channeling Pollyanna

Petra said...

Sarah, this story must be special to you for the history context and the area where it takes place.

It's much easier to make one's opinion just based on reading a news story about refugees settling in a town, and to live through such a situation. I find Tom's experience put into his words and thoughts and actions interesting - though he is just a novel character. Maria Padian's interviews with the real Somali families and community volunteers might have played an important role there. Sometimes I wonder how I personally would react when confronted with such a challenge. One can never know, there are so many variables and the result depends on both sides and most of all, no expectations can match the reality, I guess.

Amanda said...

i am happy to see such mature topics being explored in ya lit. a refreshing change from the vampire and dystopian fare.

hope you survived the blizzard with electricity intact!

Charlotte Agell said...

A great review of a truly fabulous book. I've been recommending it like crazy. Now, I can link to this review!