by Marina Budhos
Published: 13 September 2016
Publisher: Wendy Lamb Books
Formats: Hardcover, eBook
Age Level: 12 and up
Source: Hardcover provided by Random House Children's Books in exchange for an honest review
Marina Budhos’s extraordinary and timely novel examines what it’s like to grow up under surveillance, something many Americans experience and most Muslim Americans know.
Naeem is far from the “model teen.” Moving fast in his immigrant neighborhood in Queens is the only way he can outrun the eyes of his hardworking Bangladeshi parents and their gossipy neighbors. Even worse, they’re not the only ones watching. Cameras on poles. Mosques infiltrated. Everyone knows: Be careful what you say and who you say it to. Anyone might be a watcher.
Naeem thinks he can charm his way through anything, until his mistakes catch up with him and the cops offer a dark deal. Naeem sees a way to be a hero—a protector—like the guys in his brother’s comic books. Yet what is a hero? What is a traitor? And where does Naeem belong?
Acclaimed author Marina Budhos delivers a riveting story that’s as vivid and involving as today’s headlines.
Naeem is a definitely not the most well-behaved teenager in the world. He's slacking in his senior year of high school, hanging with the wrong crowd, partaking in habits that can get him locked away, and worrying his parents sick. He gets into a tough spot with the authorities, but they offer him a deal to get out of trouble: become a watcher and report back any news of possible terrorism to them. He'll even get paid! Naeem feels as though he'll be helping his family and community by protecting them from the extremists - not to mention avoiding prison - so he takes the job. It's not always an easy road for him and I can't even imagine what it would be like to have to basically be a snitch and monitor the people in your community. Maybe I'm projecting, but I feel as though Naeem tries hard to convince himself he's doing the right thing, but he can't shake the feeling that this spying on everyone is wrong. I do believe his heart is in the right place. I believe he truly wants to better himself and he feels as though this may be the way. But is it?
I loved be able to see how close and respectful he is to his stepmother. She seems like such a sweet and caring women, that if he wasn't nice to her, I'd have to box his ears! He is also fairly close to his half-brother, who basically worships his older brother. It's rather adorable. He has a tough relationship with his father. He grew up in Bangladesh without him for a time while his father moved to the United States and set himself up before he could bring Naeem over. That put a bit of a strain on their relationship and made it hard for them to feel close to one another. Then there's the fact that Naeem kind of messes up a lot and his father gets easily exasperated with him. I liked that Naeem wanted to please his family, but he had a hard time figuring out how to do that.
As a reader, I am rather character-driven. With Watched, I had so many characters to root for, worry about, and love like family! There is a lot of heart in this novel, even mixed in with all the trouble and conflict, that I couldn't help flying through it. I will be honest and say that sometimes the writing style made me stumble a bit when I was "flying through" the reading, but I was quickly able to pick myself back up and again get moving through the story just fine.
Watched is certainly an important novel, not just because it deals with overcoming religious profiling and social injustice, but because it teaches us to be our true selves. To follow our conscience, take care of our loved ones, stand up for what's right and good in this world, and that it is never too late to change. This novel is a wonderful character piece and I am so pleased I was able to get the chance to root wholeheartedly for Naeem and his family.
MARINA BUDHOS is an author of award-winning fiction and nonfiction. Her books include the YA novels: Tell Us We're Home and Ask Me No Questions; and nonfiction: her own, Remix: Conversations with Immigrant Teenagers, and, with her husband, Marc Aronson, Sugar Changed the World: A Story of Magic, Spice, Slavery, Freedom & Science, as well as the forthcoming book Eyes of the World: Robert Capa, Gerda Taro, and the Invention of Modern Photojournalism. Budhos has received the EMMA (Exceptional Merit Media Award), a Rona Jaffe Award for Women Writers, and two fellowships from the New Jersey Council of the Arts. She has been a Fulbright Scholar to India and is a professor of English at William Paterson University.