Monday, August 7, 2017

[Review] The Lines We Cross by Randa Abdel-Fattah

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Publication (dd/mm/yyyy): 18/07/2016
Publisher: Scholastic
Pages: 288
Source: Library
Genre: YA {Contemporary}

Violence | Sexual Content | Profanity

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My Rating
My thoughts

AU edition
I love contemporary YA fiction that unrelentingly and unabashedly shouts. Reading should first and foremost be entertaining, but it should also enrich the mind and open you up: to more perspective, more knowledge, more understanding, less ignorance. You can't read The Lines We Cross/When Michael Met Mina and not feel a little bit shaken up - it is not everyday that we read fiction targeting relevant political issues surrounding refugees. Considering the tough subject content, I was glad that this book was packed with many light and happy moments to balance it all out.

US edition
Let's first get this out of the way: I prefer The Lines We Cross (US/UK) over When Michael Met Mina (AU). Surprisingly, I had never come across the Aussie version at my local libraries, and when I picked up The Lines We Cross I had actually forgotten that these titles were one and the same! I feel like both titles show a vastly different side of the novel - I think The Lines We Cross resonates more with the overall themes and mood of the story itself, rather than When Michael Met Mina which of course promises a love story of some kind. Although, I will say that I really like the cover for When Michael Met Mina! I love doodly covers.

The Lines We Cross is set in suburban Sydney, Australia. It follows several teenagers as they navigate the many struggles that come with adolescence, in the context of the current issue with refugees coming into Australia. Mina, a highly ambitious and intelligent teenage girl, escaped Afghanistan with her mum, making them refugees. She is offered a scholarship at one of the most prestigious (and fictional!) high schools in Sydney; as a result, they move all the way from comfortable Auburn to an apartment in Lane Cove. When she meets a guy named Michael at school, he is instantly drawn to her. But when his parents are at the head of the Aussie Values organisation, set to deny refugees passage to Australia, friendship might be a little bit complicated. And what happens when he starts to think for himself and question the morality of his own parents' organisation?

Another #LoveOzYA! Seeing a pattern here? I seem to have been reading Aussie book after Aussie book and I love it! The Lines We Cross is distinctly, deliciously Aussie through and through, but I think readers from overseas will be able to relate to many of the themes in the book as well, such as racism and growing up. One of the biggest thrills of reading a book set in Sydney comes from feeling a bit like a celebrity. Kind of like we're on TV -- ooh! Wave to the camera and smile! Maybe I'm a bit of a dork, but it feels a bit like that. Because I recognise the places and now everyone can learn about our world!

I can envision the sights and sounds and smells of Auburn because I've been there - heck, I used to work there! (And yes, there are lots of people that just hang around during the day, probably because they can't get jobs - something I never understood.) I live around Villawood too, and while I haven't been to the Detention Centre, people always used to tell me stories about it, and I used to know someone who worked there and said it wasn't actually too bad. There are worse out there. So yeah. And to understand the enormous change from Auburn/Western Sydney to the North . . . we are worlds apart! I do hope that more people who come to visit Sydney will take the time to venture away from the CBD and explore suburban Sydney too, it is so different and lovely in its own way.

As with most contemporary fiction, The Lines We Cross is a highly character-driven story. We learn more and more about Michael and Mina, but also their friends and family, all of whom Abdel-Fattah fleshes out with care. I also loved the friendships formed, and all the interactions and dialogue felt authentic, organic. <3 Nothing like bonding at a Lord of the Rings marathon, dressed up as Gandalf!

I liked that we are exposed to not only the good in everyone, but also the bad. The grey. Take for example Terrence, Michael's best childhood friend, who is a complete jackass, a player who strings girls along and insults others for fun. However small, he does have a good side to him, which is what Michael clings to. 

Michael and Mina both go through enormous strides throughout the story. The character development was so satisfying to watch unfold, especially with Michael who used to be so ambivalent and blasé about everything in his life: his career choice, opinions about his parent's organisation, his best friends. I love that he starts to actually think for himself and take a stand for what he thinks is right, and I loved him by the end for it. Also, there were so many changes and challenges in Mina's life, it's hard not to feel so much admiration for her, she remains strong through it all.

I had read online that some people felt like this book was preachy, and I can understand where they were coming from. I personally didn't mind that Abdel-Fattah chose to really shine a spotlight on such a controversial political issue. In fact, all the more power to her. I thought that there was a good balance, and it never really felt to me like she was shoving her opinions in my face, forcing me to wave a big Welcome to Australia! flag for all refugees and join an alliance or some such.

The only thing that slightly let me down was the ending. I can't even really pinpoint why. I thought that Michael and Mina's big moments were powerful and impacting, and certainly confronting. Maybe because it felt kind of neat and resolved too nicely?

The Lines We Cross is a gorgeous and ultimately heart-lifting story about two teenagers–Michael and Mina–who meet and change for the better. It is uniquely Aussie, tackling relevant issues with refugees, beautifully written and with a great cast of characters.


First lines:

"I know two things for a fact.My parents are good people.And ever since I can remember, they've been angry about almost everything.
"He's like handprints in wet cement. One moment there's nothing; the next moment, a lasting imprint. He's stamped his way into my mind and, dare I even admit to myself, my heart. I've seen girls fall for a guy before. The guy becomes their "complete me"; their other half. But I've never wanted a guy who could make me feel like a fraction. I just wanted a guy who can talk the small stuff and the big stuff. Who can make me laugh. Who can make my body tingle and my day feel like it's playing to a good soundtrack.
     Somebody, it turns out, like Michael. (274)
"It's like we never left the boat. Ten years on and we're still on deck, being rocked and swayed, coming closer to the rocks and then pulling back, smashing against waves. (345)
"There's a lot of ugliness under this sky. But there's plenty of beauty here too. I want to find it, spread it around, all over the cruelty and injustice. I want to shake this world like a can of soda, pop the lid, and watch the bubbles explode. Join a revolution to do nothing less than change the world. I want to get angry and be passionate. But the best part is that I have Michael beside me, and it looks like he wants to do the same thing. (375)


INTERNATIONAL: Abe Books | Book DepositoryWordery

I have received this review copy in return for an honest review.

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