Ask Me No Questions
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Ask Me No Questions

2.8 29
by Marina Budhos

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"You forget. You forget you don't really exist here, that this isn't your home."

Since emigrating from Bangladesh, fourteen-year-old Nadira and her family have been living in New York City on expired visas, hoping to realize their dream of becoming legal U.S. citizens. But after 9/11, everything changes. Suddenly being Muslim means you are dangerous —

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"You forget. You forget you don't really exist here, that this isn't your home."

Since emigrating from Bangladesh, fourteen-year-old Nadira and her family have been living in New York City on expired visas, hoping to realize their dream of becoming legal U.S. citizens. But after 9/11, everything changes. Suddenly being Muslim means you are dangerous — a suspected terrorist.

When Nadira's father is arrested and detained at the U.S.-Canadian border, Nadira and her older sister, Aisha, are told to carry on as if everything is the same. The teachers at Flushing High don't ask any questions, but Aisha falls apart. Nothing matters to her anymore — not even college.

It's up to Nadira to be the strong one and bring her family back together again.

Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly
As Budhos's (House of Waiting, for adults) provocative novel opens, 14-year-old narrator Nadira Hossain and her family are heading north to Canada, seeking asylum from the harassment that has become routine in the U.S. in the wake of 9/11. The family left Bangladesh for America eight years ago on a tourist visa and stayed; the first lawyer they hired to make them legal citizens was a fraud, the second was unsuccessful. At Flushing High in Queens, with a large population of immigrant students, the "policy" is "Ask me no questions," according to Nadira. But just as her sister, Aisha, is interviewing at colleges like Barnard, with a shot at valedictorian, the questions start coming hard and fast to the people of their community-some of whom disappear in the night with immigration officers, detained for months before being deported. In a desperate move, the Hossains travel to Canada, where they are turned away; their father, Abba, is placed in a U.S. jail cell at the border, their mother remains in a shelter nearby, and the girls return to Queens to stay with their aunt and uncle. The message drives the story here; the motivations of the characters are not always clear, and the ending may strike some as a bit tidy. But the events of the novel are powerful enough to engage readers' attention and will make them pause to consider the effects of a legal practice that preys on prejudice and fear. Ages 10-14. (Feb.) Copyright 2006 Reed Business Information.
Children's Literature
Living in New York City after having arrived in the United States from Bangladesh years ago, Nadira and her older sister, Aisha, and their parents find themselves caught up in the US government crackdown on illegal aliens in the aftermath of the terrorist attacks of 9/11. Living on expired tourist visas, the family tries to flee to Canada. Stopped at the border, Nadira's father is detained and her mother stays to be near him, while Nadira and her sister are sent back to New York City. There they try to carry on their lives as normally as possible. Aisha, an excellent student who is in line to be valedictorian and attend a prestigious US university, becomes despondent, as realization dawns about what the family's illegal status will mean for college entry. Nadira, previously in her sister's shadow, finds inner strength and ends up helping their father win his freedom and clear suspicion of ties to illegal fundraising, the family obtain legal status, and bolster her sister's courage to take the stage at high school graduation. Inspiring and timely, this novel explores one of the most difficult issues facing the United States today in a compelling and highly readable way. 2006, Atheneum Books for Young Readers/Simon & Schuster, Ages 10 to 14.
—Valerie O. Patterson
There are thousands of illegal residents in the US, and those from Muslim countries have been targeted since 9/11. Budhos, who has written before about immigrant teenagers, here creates fully realized characters to help us understand the complexities of the immigration system. Nadira and Aisha are teenage sisters whose parents came from Bangladesh and stayed on in NYC with expired visas. The girls are successful high school students who know little of Bangladesh. After 9/11 the authorities are circling in to deport those who are in the US illegally, especially those from Muslim countries. In a panic, the girls' father decides to drive the family across the border to Canada, where they will seek asylum. But when they get there, Canada refuses to accept them because so many others are swamping the Canadian refugee system, and when the family turns around at the US border, the father is arrested and taken into custody. The girls leave their parents in New England, where the father is incarcerated, and return to NYC to relatives to try to continue their schooling and hope for the best. Aisha is the older sister, the academic success, the one most assimilated--yet as the pressures mount, she is the one who falls into a depression and is lost in hopelessness. Nadira rises to the occasion, pushing forward with the immigration lawyer, discovering discrepancies in the government's case against her father, pleading with the judge, never giving up. This is a powerful story, especially for those YAs who know something themselves about the immigration situation. Budhos doesn't make heroes of the illegal immigrants, but she illuminates the reasons why families stay here, and she focuses on the childrenwho have grown up in America but who are threatened with deportation because of the mistakes of their parents. She certainly is critical of the Patriot Act and its repercussions on immigrant families and especially Muslim families. KLIATT Codes: JS--Recommended for junior and senior high school students. 2006, Simon & Schuster, Atheneum, 162p., Ages 12 to 18.
—Claire Rosser
Budhos's descriptive writing style helps the story seem more realistic. Nadira's conflicting emotions are portrayed in such a way that even though teens might not identify with her situation, they can easily relate to her feelings. The topics addressed in this book are very relevant in today's society, and teens will quickly be able to make real world connections. Although not all teens would choose to read this book on their own, it could be effectively used in the classroom. VOYA CODES: 4Q 3P M J (Better than most, marred only by occasional lapses; Will appeal with pushing; Middle School, defined as grades 6 to 8; Junior High, defined as grades 7 to 9). 2006, Simon & Schuster, 176p., Ages 11 to 15.
—Kristen Moreland, Teen Reviewer
School Library Journal
Gr 7-10-As part of a U.S. government crackdown on illegal immigration after 9/11, Muslim men were required to register with the government and many were arrested because their visas had long-since expired. Families who had lived and worked in this country were suddenly and forcibly reminded of their illegal status without any likelihood of changing it. For 18-year-old Aisha Hossain, this means the end of her dream of going to college to become a doctor. For 14-year-old Nadira, her younger sister and the story's narrator, it means coming out from behind the shadow of her perfect older sister to reveal her own strength and find a way to reunite her nearly shattered family. Immigrants from Bangladesh, the Hossains have lived illegally in New York for years, their visa requests handled by a series of dishonest or incompetent lawyers and mired in the tortuous process of bureaucratic red tape. Following their father's arrest and detention, the teens put together the documentation and make a case that requires the judges to see them as individuals rather than terror suspects. The author explains their situation well, but the effect is more informational than fiction. Nadira and Aisha are clearly drawn characters, but they don't quite come alive, and their Bangladeshi-American background is more a backdrop than a way of life. Still, this is an important facet of the American immigrant experience, worthy of wider attention.-Kathleen Isaacs, Towson University, MD Copyright 2006 Reed Business Information.
Kirkus Reviews
Illegal immigrant sisters learn a lot about themselves when their family faces deportation in this compelling contemporary drama. Immigrants from Bangladesh, Nadira, her older sister Aisha and their parents live in New York City with expired visas. Fourteen-year-old Nadira describes herself as "the slow-wit second-born" who follows Aisha, the family star who's on track for class valedictorian and a top-rate college. Everything changes when post-9/11 government crack-downs on Muslim immigrants push the family to seek asylum in Canada where they are turned away at the border and their father is arrested by U.S. immigration. The sisters return to New York living in constant fear of detection and trying to pretend everything is normal. As months pass, Aisha falls apart while Nadira uses her head in "a right way" to save her father and her family. Nadira's need for acceptance by her family neatly parallels the family's desire for acceptance in their adopted country. A perceptive peek into the lives of foreigners on the fringe. (endnote) (Fiction. 10-14)
From the Publisher
"A thoughtful, riveting tale of post-9/11 America...Beautifully written."

— Chitra Divakaruni, author of Queen of Dreams

Children's Literature - Amy McMillan
Nadira has lived her life in the shadow of her practically-perfect older sister Aisha. Leaving their native Bangladesh for a new life in the United States their parents promised them endless possibilities and, for Aisha at least, those promises have begun to come true. But that all changes when they are forced to seek asylum in Canada after their visas expire and their father is taken into custody by INS at the border. Now Aisha's perfect veneer begins to crack and slightly overweight, average, underachieving Nadira is forced to navigate the waters of a crumbling family, governmental regulations, and school—basically on her own. She rises to the challenge: finding loop holes and flaws in the case, giving her father a chance to come home and make things right again. Her newfound voice and strength not only give her direction for her own future but rub off on both her mother and sister, who is able to graduate and attend college after all. The narrator is a touch on the whiny side, sounding as if she might burst into tears at any moment, which works for portions of the story but is annoying in long stretches. The story itself, though, is all-too-relevant and readers will be enlightened by a glimpse into the lives of those who live hiding in plain sight. Reviewer: Amy McMillan

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Product Details

Atheneum Books for Young Readers
Publication date:
Edition description:
Sales rank:
Product dimensions:
5.50(w) x 0.50(h) x 8.20(d)
Age Range:
12 - 17 Years

Read an Excerpt

Ask Me No Questions

By Marina Budhos


Copyright © 2006 Marina Budhos
All right reserved.

ISBN: 1416903518

Chapter One

We drive as if in a dream.

Up I-95, past the Triborough Bridge, chunks of black ice floating in the East River. Me and Aisha hunched in the back, a green airline bag wedged between us filled with Ma's luchis and spiced potatoes. Abba in the front, clutching the steering wheel, Ma hunched against the rattling door.

We keep driving even as snowflakes clump on the wipers, and poor Abba can barely see. Coconut flakes, Ma jokes. We'll go outside and scoop them up, and I'll make you some polao. But the jokes lie still in our throats.

Up the East Coast, past all these places I've seen only in maps: Greenwich, New Haven, Providence, Rhode Island. Hour after hour, snow slanting down. And in my head, words keep drumming: Special Registration. Deportation. Green card. Residency. Asylum. We live our lives by these words, but I don't understand them. All I know is we're driving straight through to that squiggle of a line on the map, the Canadian border, to apply for asylum.

Unspoken questions also thud in our minds. What happens if we get stopped and they see Abba's expired license? Should Ma wear slacks and a sweater so she doesn't stand out so much? Should Aisha drive, even though it's supposed to be a secret thatshe knows how? We ask some of these questions out loud, and others we signal through our eyes.

When we reach Boston, Aisha wakes up and starts to cry. That's where she hoped she'd live one day. Aisha always knew that she wanted to be a doctor going to Harvard Medical School. Even back in Dhaka she could ace her science and math exams, and when Abba was in Saudi Arabia working as a driver, he used to tape her reports to his windshield and boast about his daughter back home who could outdo all the boys. In those days Abba wasn't afraid, not of anything, not even the men who clucked and said Aisha would be too educated to find a husband, or the friends who worried that he'd be stuck with me, his fat and dreamy second daughter. Sometimes I hate being the one who always has to trail after Aisha. But sometimes it feels safe. I'm nestled in the back, not seen.

Ma pats Aisha on the hand. "Don't worry," she whispers. "All this, it's just for a while. We'll get you in to a university in Canada."

"McGill!" Abba booms from the front seat. "A top-rate school!"

"It's too cold!" I complain.

Aisha kicks me. "Shut up," she hisses, then speaks softly to my father's back. "Whatever you say, Abba."

Aisha and I, we never hit it off, really. She's the quick one, the one with a flashing temper whom Abba treats like a firstborn son, while I'm the slow-wit second-born who just follows along. Sometimes I think Abba is a little afraid of Aisha. It's like she always knew what she wanted, and he was put on this earth to answer her commands. Back in Dhaka when Abba wasn't sure about going to America, she cut out an article and put it in his lap: a story about a Bangladeshi girl who'd graduated top of her class in economics and now worked for the World Bank.

"We may be one of the poorest countries in the world," she told Abba. "But we're the richest in brains."

Abba laughed then. Where did an eight-year-old learn to say such things?

That's the way it always was. Oh, did you hear what the teacher said about Aisha today? "Your sister!" The other girls would whisper to me. "She's different." But what kills me is that Aisha always says the right thing. She asks Ma if she's low on mustard oil for cooking, or Abba if he asked the doctor about the better ointment for his joints.

It's hard to have a sister who is perfect.

In Portland, Maine, Abba pulls into a gas station. He looks terrible: Dark circles bag around his eyes. He's wearing one of his favorite sweater vests, but after ten hours on the road it looks lumpy and pulled. Ma scrambles out of the car to use the bathroom. As she pushes across the station, I notice the pale bottom of her shalwar kameez flutter up around her jacket. She presses it down, embarrassed. The attendant is staring at her, the gas pump still in his hand. He's Sikh, with soft, almond shaped eyes, and he smiles at her sweetly, as if he understands, and Ma gets up her nerve and pushes inside the metal door.

After, she takes one look at the two of us and says softly, "We need to stop for some food. These poor girls, they look faint."

When we go inside the small diner, Ma looks funny sitting in the booth, drawing her cardigan across her chest, touching her palms to the ends of her hair. Even though Aisha and I hang out at Dunkin' Donuts and McDonald's all the time, my family rarely goes out to restaurants. Ma's always afraid that they'll ask her something and the English words won't come out right. Now she glances around nervously, as if she expects someone to tap us on the shoulders and tell us to leave. "What if they say no at the border?" she whispers. "What if Canada turns us down?"

Abba sighs, wearily rubbing his eyes. "It could happen. No one guarantees asylum."

We've been over this again and again. We know the risks. If Canada turns us down for asylum, we have to go back across the American border, and Abba will probably be arrested because our visas to America have long since run out. And then we don't know what could happen. Maybe one day we will get U.S. residency. Or maybe we'll just be sent back to Bangladesh. But maybe -- just maybe -- Canada will let us in.

Abba continues, "Look, Aisha has to begin university in the fall. This is for the best." But he doesn't sound so sure.

Aisha leans her head on Ma's shoulder, her frizzy hair falling in a tumble over her cheeks. "Don't worry, Ma. It'll be okay. We'll get to Toronto and you'll open your restaurant, right?"

A little burn of envy sears right through me. I don't know how Aisha does it, but she always cheers up my parents. Ma and Aisha look a lot alike: They're both fair skinned and thin, and they're these incredible mimics. Ma's always picking things up from TV, where she's learned most of her English.

"Abba, why don't you tell us a story?" Aisha asks.

Abba sits back, his fingers resting lightly on the Formica tabletop, his face relaxed.

I should have asked that. After all, it's usually me who sits around with the elders listening to their stories. Nights when Aisha's in her room studying, I'll sit curled next to Abba and Ma, my head against their legs, and they'll tell me about Bangladesh and our family. Even though we left when I was seven, sometimes if I close my eyes, it's as if I were right there. I remember the boroi tree outside our house, the stone wall where Ma slapped the wash dry, the metal cabinet where Abba kept his schoolbooks. Abba carries his stories carefully inside him, like precious glass he cradles next to his heart.

"I'll tell you about the stationery."

We all grin. We've heard this story before, but it's comforting -- like sinking into the dense print of one of the old books Abba brought with him from Bangladesh.

"Your great-grandfather used to work as a printer. When he was old and ready to return to our village, the man he worked for gave him a box of the best stationery with his own name printed across the top. Grandfather used to keep that stationery in a special box with a lock. Even when he was old and blind, sometimes he brought it out, and we children would run our fingers over the raised print. Grandfather never wrote anyone with those pages. Who was he going to write to on that fine stationery with the curvy English print?

"After I saw your mother, I wanted to impress her. So I sneaked into my grandfather's room, and I stole a sheet of paper, used my best inkwell and pen, and copied out a beautiful poem. When Grandfather found out, he was furious!"

"Were you punished?" I ask.

Abba nods. "I was, and rightly so. Not only did I deceive my grandfather, but I was not off to a very good start with your mother! She thought I was a rich man who could write poetry. But I was only a poor student who could copy from books." He glances over at Ma. "And I'm still a poor man!"

"Hush," Ma scolds. But I can see she is pleased. She looks gratefully at Aisha, and my stomach twists with jealousy.

"Are you done with those?" I ask, pointing to the last of my sister's fries.

Her nose wrinkles. "No, greedy girl." And she pops the rest into her mouth.

I remember when we first arrived at the airport in New York, how tight my mother's hand felt in mine. How her mouth became stiff when the uniformed man split open the packing tape around our suitcase and plunged his hands into her underwear and saris, making us feel dirty inside. Abba's leg was jiggling a little, which is what it does when he's nervous. Even then we were afraid because we knew we were going to stay past the date on the little blue stamp of the tourist visa in our passports. Everyone does it. You buy a fake social security number for a few hundred dollars and then you can work. A lot of the Bangladeshis here are illegal, they say. Some get lucky and win the Diversity Lottery so they can stay.

Once we got here, Abba worked all kinds of jobs. He sold candied nuts from a cart on the streets of Manhattan. He worked on a construction crew until he smashed his kneecap. He swabbed down lunch counters, mopped a factory floor, bussed dishes in restaurants, delivered hot pizzas in thick silver nylon bags. Then Abba began working as a waiter in a restaurant on East Sixth Street in Manhattan. Sixth Street is lined with Indian restaurants, each a narrow basement room painted in bright colors and strung with lights with some guy playing sitar in the window. They're run by Bangladeshis, but they serve all the same Indian food, chicken tandoori and biryani, that the Americans like. Every night Abba brought home wads of dollars that Ma collected in a silk bag she bought in Chinatown.

The thing is, we've always lived this way -- floating, not sure where we belong. In the beginning we lived so that we could pack up any day, fold up all our belongings into the same nylon suitcases. Then, over time, Abba relaxed. We bought things. A fold-out sofa where Ma and Abba could sleep. A TV and a VCR. A table and a rice cooker. Yellow ruffle curtains and clay pots for the chili peppers. A pine bookcase for Aisha's math and chemistry books. Soon it was like we were living in a dream of a home. Year after year we went on, not thinking about Abba's expired passport in the dresser drawer, or how the heat and the phone bills were in a second cousin's name. You forget. You forget you don't really exist here, that this really isn't your home. One day, we said, we'd get the paperwork right. In the meantime we kept going. It happens. All the time.

Even after September 11, we carried on. We heard about how bad it had gotten. Friends of my parents had lost their jobs or couldn't make money, and they were thinking of going back, though, like my father, they'd sold their houses in Bangladesh and had nothing to go back to. We heard about a man who had one side of his face bashed in, and another who was run off the road in his taxi and called bad names. Still people kept coming for pooris and alu gobi on Sixth Street; still Abba emptied his pockets every night into Ma's silk bag. Abba used to say, "In a bad economy, people want cheap food. Especially cheap food with chili peppers that warms their bellies."

But things got worse. We began to feel as if the air had frozen around us, trapping us between two jagged ice floes. Each bit of news was like a piece of hail flung at us, stinging our skins. Homeland Security. Patriot Act. Code Orange. Special Registration. Names, so many names of Muslims called up on the rosters. Abba had a friend who disappeared to a prison cell in New Jersey. We heard of hundreds of deported Iranians from California and others from Brooklyn, Texas, upstate New York. We watched the news of the war and saw ourselves as others saw us: dark, flitting shadows, grenades blooming in our fists. Dangerous.

Then one day my cousin Taslima's American boyfriend came over and explained the new special registration law: Every man over eighteen from certain Muslim countries had to register. Saudi Arabia, Morocco, Pakistan, Bangladesh. Some did, and were thrown in jail or kicked out of the country. More and more we heard about the people fleeing to Canada and applying for asylum there, instead of going into detainment. Abba's friends came over in twos and threes. Ma served them sweets and doodh-cha -- milky tea -- and they'd talk. About starting again in the cold country up north. A new life. The Canadians are friendly, they liked to say.

"There comes a time," Abba said grimly, "when the writing is right there on the wall. Why should we wait for them to kick us out?" He added, "I want to live in a place where I can hold my head up."

One evening Abba came into our bedroom, a quiet, sad look on his face. "Take that down," he said to Aisha. He was pointing to her Britney Spears poster, the only one she was allowed. Ma opened the closets and folded all her saris and shalwar kameezes into the nylon suitcases we used when we came here. We could tell no one -- not even our best friends at school -- what we were doing.

Abba asked me to bring out my map of the northeast. After I laid the map open on the dining table, Abba showed us the thick arteries of highways, the spidery blue line of the border. "There," he said. "We have to go there and apply for asylum."

I swallowed, my throat very dry. What happens if they don't let us in? I kept thinking.

The next morning we woke to a scraping and coughing noise and saw the blue Honda by the curb.

Copyright 2006 by Marina Budhos


Excerpted from Ask Me No Questions by Marina Budhos Copyright © 2006 by Marina Budhos. Excerpted by permission.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.

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Meet the Author

Marina Budhos is the author of such books as Ask Me No Questions, Tell Us We're Home, and Remix: Conversations with Immigrant Teenagers. She has received an EMMA (Exceptional Merit Media Award) and a Rona Jaffe Foundation Writers' Award for women writers. Ms. Budhos has been a Fulbright Scholar in India, has given talks throughout the country and abroad, and has taught at several universities and colleges. She is currently an associate professor of English at William Paterson University. She lives with her husband and fellow Atheneum author, Marc Aronson, and their two sons in Maplewood, New Jersey. You can visit her online at

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