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American Heart


American Heart

Imagine a society where hatred for a certain group of people pervaded every aspect of your life. In Laura Moriarty’s AMERICAN HEART, set in a re-imagined United States, Muslims are quartered off to camps in Nevada because they are deemed a national security threat. In everyday situations, racism saturates discourse and morals drive a wedge between people. I wouldn’t want to live in that kind of world.

Sarah-Mary is 15-years-old and living in rural Missouri --- Hannibal, to be exact. She lives in a state of constant reprimanding by her aunt, who takes care of her after her mother skips town for love in another state. When she hears about Muslims being sent to internment camps in Nevada, she claims that it must not be that bad. After all, the government and news keep saying they are being sent away for everyone’s safety; why would she question authority?

"This novel teaches an important lesson in acceptance. If you cannot learn from this novel’s story, learn from Sarah-Mary instead."

After a falling out with her aunt, then with her mother, Sarah-Mary meets Sadaf, a Muslim fugitive who wants nothing but to reach Canada to escape her fate in Nevada’s inhumane camps. Never having met someone like her before, she fights to take Sadaf to safety, although with much initial reluctance. Together, they hitchhike around the United States through the kindness of others, with Sadaf posing as a visitor who cannot speak English and Sarah-Mary posing as her family member.

Before fully delving into this review, I think it’s important to note the controversy surrounding this novel before its publication. After losing its starred review on Kirkus due to a tirade of commenters storming the reviewer’s site following its support of the novel. If you do not look beyond the novel’s synopsis, you probably will feel compelled to join them as well. The main problem noted with the novel is its white savior narrative. The novel is built on Sarah-Mary’s acceptance of Muslim de-facto refugee Sadaf.

As others have noted, I do think it’s disturbing that this novel is told from a retrospective lens, with the protagonist’s prejudice still gleaming through every aspect of her life. If this a story of acceptance, why is its protagonist so ignorant?

It’s clear, however, that much backlash was given without even a single look at the contents beyond the book’s Goodreads page. It seems like giving one-starred reviews has become a game, completely undermining the author’s intent and execution of this novel. As far as storytelling goes, I was entertained throughout the novel’s entirety. There were relatively few dull moments; I felt completely immersed in the plot.

This novel teaches an important lesson in acceptance. If you cannot learn from this novel’s story, learn from Sarah-Mary instead. Teach yourself how to accept others through her own deficiency in doing so. I suggest picking up this book if you feel curious about the premise. If you go beyond the rabid waves of ignorant hate, you may find a gem.

Reviewed by Rachel D., Teen Board Member on February 14, 2018

American Heart
by Laura Moriarty

  • Publication Date: January 29, 2019
  • Genres: Fiction, Young Adult 13+
  • Paperback: 416 pages
  • Publisher: HarperTeen
  • ISBN-10: 0062694111
  • ISBN-13: 9780062694119