A British teen comes face to face with anti-immigrant xenophobia.
It’s 2007. Alexandra “Alix” Miller is nearly 15 and admittedly “Number One Nerd in Year 10” when she diverts town bully Terrence Bellows from harassing Samir, an Iraqi refugee new to her school. But Terrence isn’t alone: many people on Hayling Island say and do Islamophobic things, from Alix’s classmates and her boss to her best friend; even Alix herself thinks of Samir and his brother, Naazim, as “foreign,” worries they might be “terrorists,” and jokes that Samir’s a “suicide bomber.” Alix’s opinions—and Samir’s affection—shift as they rescue Mohammed, an undocumented Iraqi immigrant escaping torture and seeking asylum, from drowning and hypothermia, then strive to keep him safe. Unfortunately, in her efforts to bring understanding to Britain’s immigrant crisis and the country’s role in the Iraq War, Halahmy (whose husband is Iraqi) indulges in other stereotypes, such as the broken English of Samir’s Chinese neighbor. Even more unfortunate in a book specifically about cultural awakening, only people of color are described explicitly; all other characters, including narrator Alix, are assumed to be white, an assumption that undercuts the book’s effectiveness and limits its reach. While Alix eventually works to address her cultural cluelessness, her proprietary actions with Mohammed have a whiff of the white savior about them.
This all-too-timely book means well, but it may not be the age-of-Brexit corrective it clearly wishes to be. (Historical fiction. 12-16)