American Heart, by Laura Moriarty, Harper Teen, Book Review



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.

416 pages
Published January 30th 2018 by HarperTeen
ISBN 006269412X (ISBN13: 9780062694126)


I was provided with this ARC in exchange for my honest review.

This book is written from the perspective of a white, teen around the age of fifteen who was raised in the southern part of the United States. Her beliefs about race are tainted from society’s prejudices and bias subjected to her while growing up.  She claims to be an atheist, but you could tell she basically said this because it’s the popular thing to say, and this attitude is reflected in all her beliefs and thoughts throughout the book.  In the beginning, her character shows all the teenage quirks, behaviors you might see in a typical teen from the south, but, by the end of the book, her character has changed drastically.

In my mind, we are all human, that is our… race. Among this human race is a variety of cultures. This world is full of cultures and differences in beliefs, lifestyles, religion, dress, family dynamics, etc.  However, we are all human.  I strongly believe that we should embrace our differences and learn from them, celebrate those things that make us unique and stand out in a species that covers this planet.  I tell my daughter who is special needs, “that it is better to be different than to be like all the rest. This makes you unique and special, and there isn’t anything wrong with that. Besides, being like all the rest was boring.”

Unfortunately, in this world there are those who don’t embrace uniqueness as something good, but rather, they fear those differences because they don’t understand them.  There are a lot of things I don’t understand about the human race, especially the hatred and cruelty shown everywhere for those who are shunned and misunderstood.  I don’t understand their ‘why,’ or how they can justify their actions that stem from violence.

I think this book is important to literature because it shows a darker side to the human race that really needs to be addressed.  Racism and repression against cultures has gone on forever. If it’s not Muslims, its Jews, Japanese, Mexicans, African Americans… I could go on and on.  If racists don’t understand a culture, they fear it, or they make up reasons to hate it through assumptions, bias, prejudice and racism. They tend to group all from a culture together in one lump, the good with the bad.  What they don’t realize, is that this is something that could be applied to the white culture too.

Throughout history, books have been written about the conflicts stemming from racial bias and prejudices.  The need to repress those who don’t conform to what society dictates as ‘normal,’ has been around since the beginning of time.  Books about Germans against Jews, Americans and Canadians against the Japanese during WWII, Palestine against Hebrew, men against women, Black against White, White against Black… books about slavery in different countries including the USA. These are all things that have been written about over the years: To Kill A Mocking Bird (1960), Roots(1976), The Sound of Music (1965), the list goes on and on, so that we don’t forget what we are capable of.  Books during Stalin’s rule, books during Mussolini, Hitler, and other historical tyrants’ reign, they all discuss issues of repression because of differences.  Look at the KKK against African Americans, the mentality of these people, strongly shown in “The Mississippi Burnings.” and the recent attacks shown in the media.  All hard reads, full of content hard to wrap your brain around and accept, but full of truth about the human race and its nature; its shortcomings in acceptance, compassion and understanding.

Society has created a nation of hate, fed by social and racial tensions. We know it exists, see it in the news, yet we’ve been taught not to discuss it, shove our heads in the sand and ignore it.  To write about it???? That’s pushing it too far! This is giving us humans no choice. We have to acknowledge its existence if written in a book? And when we do, what do we see–something we are less likely to like about ourselves. White, brown, pink, purple, green, yellow… humans are faulted and capable of being quite ‘ugly.’  Some times, uglier than others. We don’t limit our ugliness to just other humans either.

People need to read these books, to learn from past mistakes so that they don’t redo them in the future.  Those who haven’t lived during the genocide of Jews by Germans must read about what happened in order to appreciate the importance of not repeating or allowing a repeat of such heinous acts committed by Nazis (Schindler’s List).  Here’s other books to read if interested: To condemn a book simply because there’s a fear of promoting a phobia is ridiculous.  Make educated/enlightened  decisions.  Books like this one are good conversation starters and as long as people are talking, they’re not warring?

In this book, I wish the characters were more exposed to the reader, to show the inner workings of their minds.  I love the premise and the author’s voice.  Sure, there were sections that I didn’t appreciate, like calling Canada “the new America.”  Sorry, this country is taken.  I can see how other Americans will get their backs up after reading this book; it doesn’t really show the USA in a good light, but have you turned on the television lately? It’s getting scary in the USA.

In the 1940s, camps were used in both Canada and the USA to hold the Japanese community in one place after Pearl Harbor’s attack.  Japanese People were moved to camps because there was a fear born from racism. If one group of Japanese dared to attack the USA/Canada, would the others too? Never mind those in question were born and raised in the USA/Canada. They looked like the others, they must be like the others… And out of fear, comes hate.

Publicly posted instructions for Japanese-Americans to turn themselves in

In this book, I thought the plot moved along well, transitioning from one point to the next smoothly with many plot twists along the way to keep the reader intrigued.  I loved seeing Sarah-Mary’s character development.  However, I felt Sadef’s character could have been expanded on more.  She didn’t seem fleshed out enough. For one thing, the fear she must have felt when she was so close, so many times, to being identified and captured… that had to be far more difficult for her than what was written.

The complexity in writing the interactions of racists against Muslims was diminished, except around the altercation and resulting death of a veteran protecting two Muslim families. I didn’t find this scenario believable. In this day and age, if those against Muslims were able to find out the location of this house, then where were the protestors for freedom and human rights? They are always present at any protest?

This was a huge undertaking and I can see how some of it would irritate and upset people.  I give the author a lot of credit for attempting this topic.  Does this book promote phobias? No. I don’t believe it does.  I think it covers a topic that makes people self-examine their own beliefs and fears and that puts them outside their comfort zone.  There are flaws, but I would still recommend that you read this book if for nothing else, then to form your own opinion.

I give this book:


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