Naeem has run out of choices. Failing out of school and picked up for shoplifting with a bag of weed in his backpack, the Muslim teen is forced to turn informant for a pair of detectives looking for terrorists nests in the vibrant, immigrant NYC borough of Queens: “I love Queens. I love its smells, its layout. Maybe because its so big and prairie flat, the wild moody sky overhead. The blocks start to spread, stretching to all these other neighborhoods–Corona, Woodside, Flushing, Bayside. On and on the borough stretches. Northern Boulevard, pas the frayed silver flags of the car dealers, the jagged skyline of Manhattan rises like some wrecked and far-off city, a jagged Kryptonite kingdom, comic-book surreal.”At first Naeem feels awkward, sure that everyone can see right through what he’s doing. But soon he is dipping in and out of internet cafes and neighborhood mosques like a pro, checking browser histories on public computers and making small talk with the imams who wonder where this new bright young volunteer suddenly came from. He discovers he has a talent for making himself seen, yet not seen: “The best thing about being a kid at the back of the room is you’re already a spy. You know how to fake it. The other guys who are…involved could never do what I can. I’ve got all the moves, the feints, the angles. I know how to rearrange my face, make it attentive…Half listen while a camera coolly spools inside my head.” He’s even making enough money from the dubious enterprise to enroll in summer school and boost GPA. But Naeem still feels guilty spying on his own community. Even though he tries to tell himself he’s one of the good guys, it gets harder and harder, especially when the detectives ask him to focus in on an old friend. No Naeem has to decide which side he’s on and who’s using who. Because nothing about this situation is what it seems. Author Marina Budhos has penned a richly atmospheric read full of vivid neighborhood descriptions and complicated character motivations that couldn’t be more relevant as this brutal xenophobic election season comes to a close. This nuanced depiction of surveillance and profiling is a timely must-read for anyone who’s ever felt targeted or anyone who’s ever considered themselves safe from become a target. In other words, all of us.
Archive for November, 2016