Fifteen-year-old Sarah Mary will do anything for her sensitive younger brother, but she never thought that would mean running from the law.
The setting is the Midwestern United States; the time is the not-too-distant future. A Muslim registry is in effect, and Muslims are being bused to detention centers called “safety zones” en masse. This doesn’t bother Sarah Mary, a strong-minded, fiercely loyal, and protective teenager whose mother has abandoned her and Caleb to their ultraconservative Christian aunt. Her indifference is forced to change when Caleb’s compassion for a Muslim in hiding gets her involved in a plan to help this Iranian woman escape. Together, Sarah Mary and her new companion face extreme dangers, prejudices, disappointments—and unexpected kindnesses from their fellow Americans as they fight nearly impossible odds to get her through several states and over the border undetected. Moriarty creates a frighteningly believable setting of fear and violent nativism gone awry as she traces their journey to help Sadaf find the freedom she sought when she immigrated to the United States. Sarah Mary's ignorance is an effective worldbuilding device, but it is problematic that Sadaf is seen only through the white protagonist's filter. Still, some will find value in the emotionally intense exploration of extremist “patriotic” ideology, the dangers of brainwashing and blind spots, and some of the components of our nation's social fabric that threaten to destroy us, such as segregation, greed, mistrust, and mob mentalities.
A thought-provoking, chilling read with a controversial premise. (Fiction. 13-18) (Ed. Note: The review of American Heart has been edited for clarity and to provide additional insights from the reviewer from its original appearance on kirkus.com, which was removed from the site with this statement.)