Michael likes to hang out with his friends and play with the latest graphic design software. His parents drag him to rallies held by their anti-immigrant group, which rails against the tide of refugees flooding the country. And it all makes sense to Michael.
Until Mina, a beautiful girl from the other side of the protest lines, shows up at his school, and turns out to be funny, smart—and a Muslim refugee from Afghanistan. Suddenly, his parents’ politics seem much more complicated.
Mina has had a long and dangerous journey fleeing her besieged home in Afghanistan, and now faces a frigid reception at her new prep school, where she is on scholarship. As tensions rise, lines are drawn. Michael has to decide where he stands. Mina has to protect herself and her family. Both have to choose what they want their world to look like.
I didn’t know what to expect going into this book; I thought there was a good chance I would either love it or hate it. Luckily, I really enjoyed it, although I did have a few problems. But let’s start with the good things.
The characters were great. I loved Mina from the beginning; she’s so intelligent and determined to stand up for what she believes in. She’s smart beyond her book smarts (although she is going to a prestigious school on a scholarship), and has an ability to understand the world that is rare for a teenager. At the same time, she’s most definitely a realistic portrayal of a teenager. All in all Mina was my girl and I loved reading from her perspective. Michael was also an interesting character who I grew to love. I was worried that his transformation from racist asshole to decent person would be unnatural or rushed or only because he thought Mina was hot, but it was natural. The central idea around his transformation is that ignorance leads to hatred and the best way to solve that is to spread information and interact with people who are different from you, which is an idea I really support.
Our side characters were also well done: Paula surprised me by not being the overly pretentious literary snob I thought she would be, and the side cast of characters all had engaging traits and storylines.
The plot and themes of this novel were well-developed, especially for YA. The plot was so layered, and I appreciate the fact that Abdel-Fattah took time to speak on everything from racism, immigration, and ignorance to familial expectations and toxic relationships. This is a novel that will make you think, regardless of what preformed opinions you come in with. (Side note: a few times Mina makes a point that she shouldn’t be expected to always have a list of facts and figures on hand to say back to people who harass her and that sometimes she needs to remove herself from the situation, which I appreciated. I think a lot of conservative white people expect anyone who is Muslim or looks vaguely Middle Eastern or Southeast Asian to be a walking encyclopedia and forgets that looking different doesn’t mean losing their humanity).
Finally, I actually enjoyed the romance. It was hate to love, which is always a good time, and moved slowly, which I also enjoyed. Everything felt natural, and I could feel the chemistry between Michael and Mina. My only complaint when it comes to romance was that Paula definitely deserved an f/f romance subplot and it’s really rude that we didn’t get that.
Unfortunately, I had a few other problems with this book. First, there were a few examples of ableist language. A few characters (both ones we’re supposed to hate and ones we’re supposed to like) use the r word, and there are a few references to characters having “psychotic breakdowns” or “multiple personality disorder” because they act different in certain situations. Second, Mina is a tiny bit of a manic pixie dream girl. She is a great character who feels real, but she doesn’t really have much of an internal arc, especially when compared to Michael. Meeting Mina leads Michael down this journey of transformation, whereas Mina’s only real change is being nervous she won’t fit in at a new school to making friends at that school. Third, I felt like the ending was a bit too storybook- every plotline was wrapped up nicely in a really short period.
My final problem is a spoiler, so skip the rest of this paragraph if you want to avoid that. Ultimately, Michael’s opinions on basically everything change and he becomes comfortable in who he is. However, at the end of the book, he and Mina are still uncomfortable with people knowing they’re dating. This might just be me, but I really didn’t like the fact that these 2 characters are in a relationship that they both want to avoid people knowing about.
All in all, I really enjoyed The Lines We Cross. I would definitely recommend it to any YA reader who wants a novel focusing on issues and topics that are prevalent in our modern culture.