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Laura Moriarty’s new dystopian novel, American Heart, pays homage to Mark Twain’s “The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn.” The book opens in Hannibal, MO. when a 15 year old white girl, Sarah-Mary reluctantly agrees to aid a fugitive woman of Middle Eastern origins escape to Canada. This woman takes an alias, Chloe, and is on the run for breaking a new American law requiring Muslims to register with the government.
Beginning in Missouri and traversing north to the border Sarah-Mary and Chloe are threatened to be exposed when they check into motels. pass time in roadside cafes, hitch rides, and finally, seek passage across the Canadian border. Sarah-Mary, a skeptical teenager questions her loyalty to Chloe again and again because the larger forces at play are beyond her understanding. But she is also impressionable and adopts the passion of the newly converted when she comes to understand the precarious circumstances Chloe is in.
Moriarty’s book has something else in common with Huck Finn...controversy. She has been accused of cultural appropriation because she’s written a white savior story featuring a Muslim American from the Middle East.
Zadie Smith recently made an argument in support all storytellers: as an artist, she wants to get into the head of every size, shape, and color of person. However, as a reader she doesn’t have to read anything she chooses not to.
I chose to read this novel expecting a great story and it delivered. I was also immersed in the fragile world of two Americans who got deeply into the other’s head, resulting in growth, empathy and understanding.
Sarah's review first appeared on 89.1 KMUW.— Sarah Bagby
A powerful and thought-provoking YA debut from New York Times bestselling author Laura Moriarty.
Imagine a United States in which registries and detainment camps for Muslim-Americans are a reality.
Fifteen-year-old Sarah-Mary Williams of Hannibal, Missouri, lives in this world, and though she has strong opinions on almost everything, she isn’t concerned with the internments because she doesn’t know any Muslims. She assumes that everything she reads and sees in the news is true, and that these plans are better for everyone’s safety.
But when she happens upon Sadaf, a Muslim fugitive determined to reach freedom in Canada, Sarah-Mary at first believes she must turn her in. But Sadaf challenges Sarah-Mary’s perceptions of right and wrong, and instead Sarah-Mary decides, with growing conviction, to do all she can to help Sadaf escape.
The two set off on a desperate journey, hitchhiking through the heart of an America that is at times courageous and kind, but always full of tension and danger for anyone deemed suspicious.
Laura Moriarty is the New York Times bestselling author of The Chaperone, as well as The Rest of Her Life, While I’m Falling, The Center of Everything, and American Heart. She received her degree in social work before returning for her MA in creative writing at the University of Kansas, and she was the recipient of the George Bennett Fellowship for Creative Writing at Phillips Exeter Academy in New Hampshire. She currently lives in Lawrence, Kansas, where she is a professor of creative writing at the University of Kansas. Visit her online at www.lauramoriarty.net.