Study Guide

The Orange Houses Setting

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New York City

It's not just Jay-Z who has an "Empire State of Mind," and for Fatima, New York City is the ultimate ticket to freedom. Why else would she risk going to a city full of immigration police? Most of the other refugees are off to Camden specifically because there are few police there. Yet:

[…] at sixteen, [Fatima] was headed where all told her not to go: New York. She had to visit the Statue of Liberty. (2.5)

The fact that Fatima deliberately goes to the Big Apple when it's riskier shows us how important our setting is. NYC is associated with opportunity, promise, and freedom—associations that are perhaps best exemplified by the Statue of Liberty (so hop on over to the "Symbolism, Imagery, Allegory" section to read up on it). And insofar as this book deals with all of these ideas, New York is a natural choice for its setting.

Importantly, though, we also see another side of New York City in the Orange Houses. They are "small, deep-set windows grayed cinderblock hallways noisy with need" (3.2), and while we don't know much else about them (other than that they are in the Bronx), we don't really need to. In a book set in a city that stands as a beacon of hope and possibility, the Orange Houses are a stark reminder of just how hard it is to rise to the top, of just how hard people can work to barely make it.

New York City might be full of promise to Fatima, but the reality is that it has problems of its own. Mik and her family are struggling to make ends meet, while Jimmi struggles constantly and is even attacked. It's complicated—just like the path to freedom is. 

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