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Bifocal [Paperback]

Deborah Ellis , Eric Walters
4.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (1 customer review)
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Book Description

Sept. 18 2007

On the White Ravens' Outstanding New International Books for Children and Young Adults list, 2008

ForeWord Magazine's Book of the Year Awards Bronze Medal Winner (YA Fiction category), 2007

Snow Willow Award nominee, 2008

CCBC's Best Books for Kids & Teens, 2008

Two bestselling authors join forces to write a powerful novel about racism.

A student arrested on suspicions of terrorism. A high school torn apart by racism. Two boys from two different sets of circumstances forced to choose sides.

These are the issues at the heart of Bifocal, a groundbreaking new novel for young-adults.

The story is told from two different points of view. Haroon is a serious student devoted to his family. His grandparents emigrated from Afghanistan. Jay is a football star devoted to his team. He is white.

One day their high school is put on lockdown, and the police arrest a Muslim student on suspicion of terrorist affiliations. He might be guilty. Or is he singled out because of his race?

The entire student body fragments along racial lines and both Haroon and Jay find that their differences initially put them at odds. The Muslim students become targets and a smoke-bomb is set off near their lockers while Jay and his teammates believe they've been set-up to look like racists.

Bifocal is, by no stretch, an easy book. Award-winning authors Deborah Ellis and Eric Walters deliver a serious, hard-hitting book about racism that does not talk down to young people.


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Review


"This thought-provoking novel works extremely well as an examination of the dangers of racism and the redeeming value of tolerance."

-- Quill & Quire

"This is a powerful and important book, one that will speak to modern teen readers in a way that they will undoubtedly hear and respond to. . . Without falling into didacticism, Ellis and Walters thoughtfully depict a full range of reactions and widely-held beliefs and offer readers the opportunity to see not only the vastly different experiences that shape Jay and Haroon's understanding of events, but also how so many others feel and respond to events like 9/11 and the mere threat of anything similar. . . Bifocal should, and will, enjoy a wide readership and would make an excellent choice for class, or group, discussion."

Highly Recommended.

-- CM Magazine

"This is a story that will leave readers looking at their schools and themselves with new eyes."

-- Booklist

"Bifocal is perhaps the bravest, most important, engaging and enraging, most satisfying work of fiction for young Canadians in a long while. Also, the most timely. It will make you think, render you angry and saddened, and leave you hopeful and reflective."

-- The Hamilton Spectator

"This novel is about our differences and how we treat one another. It deals with contemporary issues and could well become important reading in today's high schools."

-- Winnipeg Free Press

"(Bifocal) is a powerful look at a community divided along racial lines."

-- The Canadian Press

"Together, Ellis and Walters created two vivid characters and put them in a fictional high school that bristles with racial tension."

-- The Toronto Star

About the Author

Deborah Ellis is the acclaimed author of The Heaven Shop and the Breadwinner trilogy. She has won the Governor General’s Award, Canada’s highest literary honor, and is a member of the Order of Ontario. She travels the world to hear the stories of children marginalized by war, illness, and poverty.

Eric Walters is one of Canada’s most successful writers and prolific writers for teenagers. His novel Shattered recently won the 2007 National Chapter of Canada IODE Violet Downey Award and the 2007 White Pine Award. A former teacher, Eric visits classrooms across the country and he has already spoken to more than 750,000 students.

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Customer Reviews

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2 of 3 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Recommended reading for teens. Nov. 14 2008
By David
Format:Paperback
This book is about boys from various social groups who happened to be at the same school. It is a good, smooth read that keeps the reader interested until the end. The characters are real and well developed. Without being preachy the author does a good job educating the readers about racial and religious disparities. It's a recommended reading for all teens. I also recommend:
Inkspell
Inkheart
Inkdeath
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Amazon.com: 4.0 out of 5 stars  40 reviews
7 of 9 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars A good, two sided story Oct. 31 2007
By C.E. - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Hardcover|Vine Customer Review of Free Product
Lets get one thing out of the way. this is a novel aimed at the 9-15 year old crowd. Its centered in a high school in Canada and concerns racial tensions. Now that we've gotten that out of the way, the book is actually pretty good. Its a nice presentation of a topic that has gotten lots and lots of media coverage lately. the battle between radical Islam extremists and the rest of the world is played out here on a much smaller scale. In a high school, just like the larger outside world, you have your groups. The "brown" kids (Arabic, Indian, Afghani, etc..) the Black kids, the Goths, the Emos, the Popular Preppies, and then the Jocks.
All of them meet in the cafeteria for lunch but they are still divided according to social status and for the most part, skin color.
The characters are pretty well written. Jay is the jock with a consience. A Christian who is not sure he can do what the others do. Haroon, the Afghani who is smart and quiet, reserved and just wants to live a quiet life of peace. Kevin, the quarterback who never backs down. Zana, Haroon's twin who is stubborn and convinced of her own convictions. And we have Julian, the kid who seems able to cross all the social boundaries and ties them all together nicely.
An incident happens at the school and it sparks feelings of hate and violence. Intolerance and harsh ideas abound i this book, but it serves as a mini-primer on what we face today. There are some racial comments in this book, but they all serve the purpose of advancing the story and showing how intolerance and ignorance make us sound uneducated.
All things aside, I cant give this book 5 stars, for a few reasons. One, the ending felt really really rushed. There was great build up, tensions were piling and then....it fizzled. We never did get to find out what happened to the suspect arrested and taken to jail. It would have been nice to see the fate of that young person and how things were wrapped up or explained. We also didnt get to see any of the fallout or tensions between two of the main characters play out. At only 270-ish pages, there was ample room to explain a little more of the story and show some of the ramifications as well. But it was a good book none the less.
I would reccomend this book to a teacher looking for something to engage his or her students. It would go well in a sixth grade classroom or even a junior high civics class or world history. Its a good book to get children and young adults thinking and looking at two different sides to the same story/event. Solid writing with very few mistakes, a good subject matter and it takes place in October and around Halloween, how fitting that I finished it this morning...Halloween. A good book that bears a reading.
4 of 5 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Realistic and Engrossing Nov. 4 2007
By Tamela Mccann - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Hardcover|Vine Customer Review of Free Product
In today's world, we never know when our lives are going to change at the drop of a hat. However, most of us don't expect for our very existences to be questioned, and especially not those of us who live fairly normal lives in typical small towns. But when an Islamic terrorist plot is uncovered in just such a place, two high school boys find their lives turned upside down and their values questioned, and they both must make life-altering choices as to how they are going to handle themselves.

Haroon is a Muslim who is studying for a chance to be on the school's Reach for the Top academic team, but his life undergoes a terrifying shift when he is mistakenly taken out of his classroom as part of the terrorist plot that is uncovered. Even though his identity is secured fairly quickly, Haroon finds that life's going to be different; others look at him differently based on his religion and the color of his skin, things he'd never before thought much about. Haroon tries to keep things as normal as possible, but it's difficult when his twin sister Zana decides that her way of dealing with Muslim prejudice is to don the veiled abaya that makes her even more identifiable.

Jay is a star football player in his first year at the local high school; he's a good student who is pleased to find himself accepted as part of the in crowd. His whole life is focused on football until the team captain begins to let his prejudices against those different from him show; Jay finds himself swept up into an incident that quickly grows out of control. What Jay decides to do to rectify the situation reveals his own character.

Told in chapters that alternate between Jay's and Haroon's first-person points of view, this is an exceptional novel that speaks directly to today's headlines. Haroon and his family face prejudice simply because of their religion, and Jay and his family have to decide if their church beliefs allow them to display their own prejudices. The fact that the boys' lives don't really intersect gives the book a realistic feel, and the author does not shy away from the hard words or facts that most people are unwilling to face. Rarely has a book made me think so much or wonder so deeply about what makes us human. The book doesn't stray into the "happy ever after" domain and it's a very believable situation that many of us may face (or perhaps already do). I would be gratified to see this book as required curriculum in high schools across our country. Well-written and well told, it's a must-read. Highly, highly recommended. Read this book.
3 of 4 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars It had Potential But Fell Short Nov. 15 2007
By Amazon Customer - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Hardcover|Vine Customer Review of Free Product
I thought that this would be an interesting book to read since it is the same story told from the viewpoint of two different teenagers with their parts written by two different award-winning authors. The two narrators are Jay, an all-American white football player, and Haroon, an Afghani-American kid who is on the school's knowledge quiz team. Without even reading a summary of the book, it's easy to figure out that the book is going to be a story about racial prejudices that will end with some sort of understanding between two culturally and religiously different people.

The dialog between the characters was very convincing. It took me back to my high school years when what people did and said are so important but often so petty. The cafeteria and school yard are full of various cliques of people who isolate themselves from others that are different from them. Specifically, in this novel, the place in the schoolyard where the Muslim students hang out is called "Brown Town". There's, of course, the jock who thinks he's so cool making up degrading names and jokes for people in the other groups. And, of course, there are the kids that go along with him because they don't feel like they have a choice.

There were some interesting, adventurous parts in this novel like when the football players all run up to the roof during a lockdown and when they run around town decorating people's lawns and houses with toilet paper, eggs, and vegetables. However, there were also some parts of the book that fell short of my expectations. For example, there was an episode that happened in class with a character named Hadi who seemed to come out of nowhere and supposedly did something that the teacher was going to contact the police about. Unfortunately, even though I read the preceding pages multiple times, I wasn't clear about what happened. We also never learn what becomes of the terrorist who is picked up by the police at the beginning of the story beyond the fact that he went to jail. His character just sort of disappears halfway through the story. Also, Haroon himself is a weaker character than I would have liked to have seen in this book. It would have been nice to have learned more about his culture in order for young American readers to have a better understanding of a culture that they often misunderstand. In the end, as easily predicted, Jay and Haroon become friends, but there's really no connection between them before that would bond them together. The resolution of the book is very weak. Nearly everything is resolved almost magically as the story ends and the story just sort of fizzles out.

Despite its weaknesses, I think this would be a good book to make students think about the personal side of learning to understand people from other cultures. It's a good source for making students think about what they say and do to others who are different than them. Unfortunately, the teens that should read this book and learn from it are probably not the teens who are going to pick it up to read it unless a teacher forces it upon the entire class.
3 of 4 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Not what I expected Nov. 5 2007
By J. Rose - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Hardcover|Vine Customer Review of Free Product
When I got this book I was put off by the lack of a blurb. Just the statement: There are two sides to every story. You just have to listen.

And the dedication: To those we have been told to fear.

Pretty heady stuff. But this book did nearly everything right.

It was about Jay (a Caucasian football player) and Haroon (a Muslim smart kid). The chapters alternate in first person from each boys' perspective, hence the title. So you get to see the same thing happening from two positions.

I was afraid this was going to be about the boys' friendship, how everyone was going to try to get in the way. I was most plesantly surprised.

There is tons of plot, and lots of character development. The first half of the book literally flew under my fingertips. The third quarter was not as tightly written, so it dragged a bit (even though a lot of plot occurred here). The last quarter was amazing. Not just because it didn't go where you think it will go, but because it comes up with some amazingly satisfying resolution while thwarting your expectations at every turn.

It is also a very topical book, dealing with terrorism, religious intolerance, and high school politics. But these are all delt with in a very universal way. I can imagine folks reading this book years from now (and getting a lot out of it).

Highly Recommended for children in upper middle school and high school, also recommended for anyone looking for a great read.
2 of 3 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Excellent Dec 1 2007
By Chapati - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Hardcover|Vine Customer Review of Free Product
I was very skeptical about this book when I received it- what were the chances that a young adult book less than 300 pages long could possibly tackle the subject of racism in a meaningful way?

Very good, in fact.

Bifocal is an intelligent, open-minded novel about two boys growing up in America- one a quiet Muslim, and one star Caucasian football player. A terrorist threat alerts the school and the community one morning, and both their lives are touched in very different, but thoroughly compelling ways.

I am an American minority, and even though I graduated high school several years ago, I thought the terminology used to describe the people and cliques at the school- especially in the cafeteria- were spot on. Neither of the authors cuts corners in terms of just how segregated a school can be, even in a "diverse" neighborhood. The story was portrayed very realistically. There are some scenes that are disturbing, of course- I don't think that a book can properly tackle such a monumental subject without having scenes of that sort. But they are important to the story as a whole, and important for people to read and understand.

This book will push buttons- it asks tough questions, confronts controversial topics and expects a great deal from its readers. But it manages, in less than 300 pages of fairly large font, to tackle an important issue facing all people today, and to end with a thoughtful and positive outlook on the world as it may be tomorrow.

Overall, it was a great read, and if I had a child, I would want him/her to read it- and I would certainly follow that read up with extensive discussion.
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