Monday, August 3, 2009

Ask Me No Questions

A. Bibliography
Budhos, Marina. 2006. Ask Me No Questions. New York: Atheneum Books for Young Readers. ISBN 1416903518.

B. Plot Summary
Nadira and her family are illegal aliens from Bangladesh living on expired tourist visas in New York City. After the horrific events of September 11, being Muslim changes everything. The family tries to leave the US for Canada only to be turned away at the border. When Nadira's father is arrested and detained at the border, Nadira and her sister Aisha are sent back to Queens to try to carry on life as usual- but noting in their lives will ever be the same again.

C. Critical Analysis
Ask Me No Questions is set in modern New York City where the family lives in modern apartments with modern amenities. Nadira and her sister attend school and wear blue jeans, tennis shoes, and carry backpacks, like every other American school kid.
Culture markers occur in the novel through food like tea, fish, lamb, and rice, prepared especially for Nadira's father when he is allowed to go free after being detained.
Clothing is mentioned, especially the shalwar kameezs and saris and dupattas of the older women. Personal customs like bathing twice a day and using hair oil are spoken of.
Cultural names are used, 'Abba' for father and the girls use the term 'Ma' for their mother. The names of the uncles are used before the term 'uncle', ie, Ali-Uncle or Naseem-Uncle.
Religion is briefly noted but is not a major part of the story's plot. the Koran and Ramadan and praying at the mosque are not a major part of Nadira's family now that they live in the US. Nadira mentions, "Abba and Ma, they do some of the holidays, like they fast for Ramadan, but it's been a long time since I've seen Abba pull out the prayer rug from the closet."
The main reason for the cultural markers mentioned in the story is to explain why the story exists: that a family like Nadira's would be looked at suspiciously in the days immediately following 9/11.
A class of students whose family are not immigrants would benefit from hearing or reading a story that describes an immigrant family's desire to remain and fit in the US.

D. Review Excerpts
School Library Journal -As part of a U.S. government crackdown on illegal immigration after 9/11, Muslim men were required to register with the government and many were arrested because their visas had long-since expired. Families who had lived and worked in this country were suddenly and forcibly reminded of their illegal status without any likelihood of changing it. For 18-year-old Aisha Hossain, this means the end of her dream of going to college to become a doctor. For 14-year-old Nadira, her younger sister and the story's narrator, it means coming out from behind the shadow of her perfect older sister to reveal her own strength and find a way to reunite her nearly shattered family. Immigrants from Bangladesh, the Hossains have lived illegally in New York for years, their visa requests handled by a series of dishonest or incompetent lawyers and mired in the tortuous process of bureaucratic red tape. Following their father's arrest and detention, the teens put together the documentation and make a case that requires the judges to see them as individuals rather than terror suspects. The author explains their situation well, but the effect is more informational than fiction. Nadira and Aisha are clearly drawn characters, but they don't quite come alive, and their Bangladeshi-American background is more a backdrop than a way of life. Still, this is an important facet of the American immigrant experience, worthy of wider attention.

E. Connections
Encourage students to research the Patriot Act. Discuss why the Act was put into place and the effect it has had on Americans of Middle Eastern descent. How is this Act both good and bad?

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