Published by Wendy Lamb Books on September 13th 2016
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.
Today we bring you a guest post by author Marina Budhos about her relevant and excellent new book, WATCHED. Now, more than ever, it’s important we embrace the diversity that literature has to offer. As Gene Yuen Lang has challenged us all, this book, for many, will be a way to Read Without Walls.
WATCHED is my first novel where I got to plunge into boy world and a male perspective. And it was such a blast! I’m the mother of two boys—one about to turn 12 and another 16, so I feel like I’ve been filling up like a barrel with boy material, particularly teen boys. I’m also a professor so I’ve observed young adult male college students—especially those slacker guys who try to make themselves invisible at the edge of the classroom. That gave me some real insight into my main character, Naeem. He has vague dreamy ideas of who he wants to be, but he also is used to using his charm to duck and evade his responsibilities. And that catches up to him in WATCHED. Suffice it to say, this boy-barrel of material was ready to spill over.
I also really wanted to explore what it’s like for a boy like Naeem to find his sense of manhood. His own father, an older immigrant, is worn down, a bit hapless in his adopted country. There’s a huge gulf between father and son. Naeem straddles worlds—the streets of Queens, school, and his own immigrant community and neighborhood. He feels weighed down by his community and parents’ expectations, which only wants to make him want to bolt. He’s yearning for a father figure and in a strange way, he finds it in one of the detectives who’s pressuring him as an informant.
The other part of me that I loved pouring into this book was the landscape. I grew up in Queens and was something of a restless teenager. I got a bike when I was thirteen and I used to use it to bike all around the borough, which is very easy, since it’s flat, one neighborhood lapping into another. I remember feeling dissatisfied, wanting something more, and yet it was still inchoate, so the best thing was to just keep moving. And there was always Manhattan on the horizon, glittering, a great big Oz of ambition and media success. That’s what tempts Naeem and in a funny way, wandering, exploring is perfect for a kid-turned-informant. It’s what he does anyway.
Finally a little factoid about the book: the opening sequence, “The Suit,” which sets the book’s action in motion, happens in a mall where I had a high school job!