Reviews for Bifocal


Booklist Reviews 2008 January #1
Two award-winning Canadian authors team up to tell a story of race prejudice that divides a high school after Azeem, a Muslim student, is arrested following a bomb plot. The story is told in the alternating voices of two students: studious Haroon, Azeem's academic-bowl teammate; and Jay, a popular football player. Neither boy seems to be aware of much prejudice in the school, although Jay describes the seating in the cafeteria as "divided in as many subgroups as tables." As Azeem's trial progresses, vandalism and racial slurs escalate, and the narrators are jolted by the actions and attitudes of people they thought they knew. Their individual struggles to understand the flaring prejudice and their journeys toward self-discovery are subtle and authentic. Secondary characters, such as Haroon's sister, who wears the abaya, and biracial Steve, raise interesting side issues but are less well developed than Haroon and Jay. This is a story that will leave readers looking at their schools and themselves with new eyes. Copyright 2008 Booklist Reviews.

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ForeWord Magazine Reviews 2008 January/February
Is it a longing for order, ethnic magnetism, or adolescent xenophobia that makes high school lunchrooms such showcases for segregation---or is that "niche societies? At Bifocal's Central Secondary, a high school in an unnamed Canadian metropolis, there's a section for the kids from India, Pakistan, and the Middle East called Brown Town. There's a place over by the doors, nearly outside, for the Goths and "emos," who are "sort of diet-Goth." The black kids sit in Cafrica near the Asian kids who dress like blacks and are called Jackie Chans. Of course, as anyone who went to high school knows, the jocks sit nearest the food and the pretty, popular girls sit where the jocks can see them. The authors' strategy for creating this book about bigotry and fear is ingenious: the text is written by two people, alternating the points of view of two different characters. Eric Walters, a social worker and coach with forty-six books to his name, writes from the perspective of a white athlete, Jay, a rising football star being groomed for the position of captain in his senior year. The book opens with Jay and other teammates climbing through a ceiling to get some perspective on a "lockdown" situation at the school. From their elevated position, they vocalize both wonder and contempt for the SWAT teams, bomb squads, and fleets of police that surround the school. The other main character of the story, Haroon, has an entirely different take on the proceeding. It was in his classroom that the trouble began when police burst into his "Reach for the Top" rehearsal (an inter-school quiz competition) and cuffed him and the only other "brown" kid in the class, Azeem, for charges unknown. Deborah Ellis, the author of the Haroon segments, is a peace activist who has traveled the world to hear the stories of children marginalized by poverty and conflict. Bouncing back and forth between white and brown, Muslim and everything else, right, wrong, high, low, and the "war zones" of football field, dinner table, and community, Ellis and Walters' cooperation is both energetic and thoughtful. Bifocal will interest teens of all colors and backgrounds, and will make an excellent resource for teachers who wish to discuss controversial issues in their classrooms. (November) ©2006 ForeWord Magazine. All Rights Reserved. Copyright 2007 ForeWord Reviews.

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School Library Journal Reviews 2008 March

Gr 8-10-- Jay and Haroon are caught up in parallel plots that begin when police initiate a school lockdown and arrest a Muslim student under suspicion of terrorist links. Tensions are sparked in the racially divided high school where "brown" students congregate in "Brown Town." Jay, a newcomer, is a football jock. Haroon provides contrast as a nerdish academic-quiz-team member, but he has come under police suspicion for being Muslim after another Muslim student says he understands why terrorists behave as they do. Further conflict leads to the vandalizing of Brown Town. On Halloween, the captain leads some footballers to vandalize houses, including Haroon's. Both boys struggle to understand people and events around them and must rise above the mistrust created by 9/11 to make powerful choices. Jay finally stands up to his bigoted team captain and Haroon overcomes his fear. The authors' intentions are noble as they bravely plot the course of two strangers becoming less strange. The climax is moving. Regrettably the story is peppered with dialogue and actions that are inaccurate of Muslims. Consequently the book unintentionally contributes to the continuation and reinforcement of stereotypes, which limits its usefulness.--Fawzia Gilani-Williams, Oberlin Public Library, OH

[Page 197]. Copyright 2008 Reed Business Information.

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VOYA Reviews 2007 December
Told from alternating perspectives, each written by a separate author, this book is the story of Jay, a Caucasian football star at his Canadian high school, and Haroon, a Muslim student of Middle Eastern descent at the same school. When another Muslim student is arrested under suspicion of being a terrorist, the students react differently. The Muslim crowd is encouraged by parents to not draw attention to themselves, despite harassment from other students and from the police. The members of the football team, led by their captain, are responsible for much of the harassment. The novel depicts a slice of life presented through the eyes of the two protagonists, giving insight into the cultural and psychological reasons for the actions of each character in the book. Only as individuals do they successfully bridge the gap in their school and demonstrate cultural understanding to their peers The authors take on an ambitious project with this book. The characters never quite come to life, which is perhaps a result of shared authorship. At times, the events in the story are predictable, but they successfully portray an interesting cast of characters, and the diverging viewpoints are a good starting point for classroom discussion of life in a diverse society and of current events.-Jenny Ingram 3Q 2P M J Copyright 2007 Voya Reviews.

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