American Fever by Dur e Aziz Amna
Published by Arcade
Publication date: August 16, 2022
Stereotypes happen when you don’t understand the thing itself, and so you interpret it. This is not an account of how America was. It’s an account of who I was.
Like many normal teenagers 16-year-old Hira can’t wait to leave her boring life behind. She’s tired of her all-girls school, her annoying parents and little brother, all of it. So tired in fact that she signs up for and is accepted for a study abroad year in America. Soon she’s leaving her home in Pindi (4th largest city in Pakistan) for Lakeview, a small rural town in Oregon. Author Dur e Aziz Amna captures the culture shock on both sides, as well as the even greater issue Hira brings with her, in her debut novel, American Fever.
When Hira arrives, she’s met by Kelly, her host parent and Amy, her daughter, who are pleased to show off life in their small town. The gaps between the cultures arise immediately, as Kelly is a working, single parent who tells Hira she is responsible for her own breakfast and lunch. Plus, Hira will have chores including doing her own laundry. For most of us this isn’t shocking, but for Hira it’s nuclear in its impact. Cook? Chores? What kind of third world country has she landed in? Her family has a maid who also cooks. What she doesn’t handle, Hira’s mother does. Who would make a child work?! It’s barbaric. Not to mention, America’s obsession with athletics. Hira must take an exercise class (PE) AND then join a team for after school. Why would anyone think this is a good idea?
For every mundane or lighthearted disconnect that arises there is a darker component to American Fever. It’s 2011, so Hira is repeatedly asked if her family is hiding bin Laden or if she knows terrorists. She’s expected to make her meals and needs to eat, but no one has any idea about halal so she can’t purchase or eat any of the animal proteins at Kelly’s or at school. On a more personal level, American Fever begins with Hira going to the doctor in Oregon months after she’s arrived because she’s started coughing up blood. This quickly becomes an issue that not only impacts Hira, but everyone she’s come in contact with in Oregon.
This is a novel of contrasts and contradictions. Hira can’t wait to get away from the Islamic constraints she faces every day, but once in America she finds herself defending and missing Pakistan. And while Kelly enthuses about the greatness of America and how lucky Hira is, there are no jobs and most of the teenagers have no plans on attending college—an anomaly in Pakistan. Weeks after finishing it, I’m still thinking about the numerous perspectives and their impact on each of us and our attitudes towards each other. Both sides are astonished at the other’s ineptitude and both firmly convinced of their rightness.
All of this imbues American Fever with a strong push-pull feeling with Hira at its center. For everything that makes her unique or ‘foreign’, she still evokes the same ennui and discontent found in teenagers around the world. She’s searching and questioning, angsty and angry because no matter where she is she is still who she is. Not an unfamiliar state of mind to those of us who remember 16 as a less-than-fun time of life. Self-absorbed, astute, funny, and frustrating, Hira’s voice lends clarity to a point in life that feels nothing but muddy. Using a benign subject forgotten as soon as we leave school (exchange students?) American Fever resonates even as it pushes the envelope.
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*I received a free copy of this book from Arcade in exchange for an honest review.*