Friday 19 August 2011

Book review : Hidden - Miriam Halahmy

Alix is just a normal 14-year-old, living in a sleepy town on Hayling Island. She has her fair share of arguments with her mum (who's grumpily nursing a broken leg), misses her dad who's gone AWOL, is vaguely interested in boys and spends most of her time running on the beach with her dog. She's just a typical teen.

But then she sets out on a fragile friendship with Samir, a "foreigner" of indeterminate origin in her class who is getting bullied. Alix starts out wary - we can't help but smile when she hears that his Auntie Selma is making baklava in the kitchen and imagines her knitting balaclavas for terrorists ! - but soon puts her fears and prejudices to one side and becomes closer to him.

As the two walk on the beach together, they hear a splosh and rescue a badly beaten, drowning man from the freezing sea. He's an illegal immigrant, which is a subject they've just been learning about at school, and he becomes their secret. A rather badly kept secret it turns out, so it turns into a race against time to get him to safety before the local racist thugs, the neighbourhood busybodies or the police manage to get to him first.

It's a delicate subject area and one that is dealt with with great sensitivity but also directness. The author doesn't shy away from pointing out the racist views and prejudices, from the benign to the extreme, that many people harbour to some degree, if they're honest. Who has never fleetingly thought, even if they've never dared to say it out loud, that there would be less illegal immigrants if Britain didn't offer so many handouts and jobs ? But - as Alix discovers - for many, money has very little to do with their desperate attempt to enter the country. It's often a matter of life and death, as they try to escape persecution, torture and a horrific death in their own land.

As Alix and Samir pierce the mystery surrounding the strange man from the sea, they start to uncover the secrets in their own lives too - Samir's tragic background, the truth behind Alix's dad's disappearance, the bullying where you'd least expect it and the hidden views (positive and negative) towards immigrants of those in the neighbourhood.

It's a coming of age novel that educates and enlightens the reader at the same time as Alix delves into her own lifestory. It presents the horrific tales of many immigrants in a way that is understated and perfectly suited to readers of all ages. I love the way it links the stories of Dunkirk and the modern day immigrants, intertwining the past and present and making you think about what is right or wrong.

The tone is perfectly suited to tweens and teens who will recognise themselves in Alix and their friends, and will lead on to many interesting discussions, not just about the central issue of immigration, but also the strained relationship between teens and their parents, friendship and loyalty, divorce, bullying and recognising right from wrong. Even as an adult, I found it to be a thoroughly enjoyable, gripping read.

star rating : 4.5/5

RRP : £6.99 (but only £3.36 on amazon)

Paperback: 254 pages
Publisher: Meadowside Children's Books (30 Mar 2011)
Language English
ISBN-10: 1845395239
ISBN-13: 978-1845395230

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  1. Thanks for the great review Cheryl. I am very proud of the star rating!!

  2. This sounds like a superb and thought provoking read for a teenager. My 13 year old daughter is a bookworm and I'm always on the look out for new books for her. I'm putting this on the Christmas list for her.

  3. Sounds like a great book. Even if my daughter wouldn't sit and read it herself yet, I could read it to her and we could both enjoy it that way.


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