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Ask Me No Questions

by Marina Budhos


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Ask Me No Questions
by Marina Budhos


Review Posted October 11, 2008.
Simon Pulse, 2007. First published in 2006. 162 pages.

Fourteen-year-old Nadira is from Bangladesh, but she has grown up in America. Her father's visa has expired, and they tried to get legal residency, but their money was taken by a lawyer running scams. It didn't seem to matter -- everyone else seemed to be in the same situation.

Then September 11th happened. The INS was cracking down. Rumors were flying.

Nadira's older sister, Aisha, is a senior in high school and the star of the debate team and every teacher's favorite student. She has applications in to prestigious schools, but she can't apply for financial aid unless their legal status changes.

They hear a reliable (they think) rumor that they should go to Canada and apply for asylum. The result is disaster. The Canadians do not let them cross the border, and they are promptly detained. Nadira's father, Abba, is arrested and held in a detention center. They have no idea how long he will be held or if the whole family will be deported.

Nadira and Aisha have no choice but to go back home to New York and go back to school. They will stay with their cousin. Aisha doesn't have a license, but she drives them back. Ma must stay at the border to try to get Abba's case heard.

So begins Ask Me No Questions. Can Nadira and Aisha help in any way to get their father's case heard? How can they go on with ordinary high school life? How can Aisha focus on tests and college interviews?

Nadira says:

Tuesday morning Aisha and I are back at Flushing High as if nothing happened.

We're not the only illegals at our school. We're everywhere. You just have to look. A lot of the kids here were born elsewhere -- Korea, China, India, the Dominican Republic. You can't tell which ones aren't legal. We try to get lost in the landscape of backpacks and book reports. To find us you have to pick up the signals. It might be in class when a teacher asks a personal question, and a kid gets this funny, pinched look in his eyes. Or some girl doesn't want to give her address to the counselor. We all agree not to notice.

I remember when I was little, crouching in a corner of the playground and hearing a group of girls chant: Ask me no questions. Tell me no lies. That's the policy at school. Ask me no questions, we say silently. And the teachers don't. "We're not the INS," I once heard one of them say. "We're here to teach." But sometimes I feel like shaking their sleeves and blurting out, Ask me. Please.