Study Guide

The Orange Houses Quotes

  • Freedom and Confinement

    She sounded twice as good as she thought she did, half as good as she thought she should. With her ears plugged her voice was a hollow echo trapped in her head. Stick your fingers in your ears and talk, you'll get the idea. (1.19) 

    Notice the word <em>trapped </em>used here to show us what Mik's hearing impairment is like for her. We'd also like to point out how much the author tries to make us understand what Mik goes through so we get her perspective more. It's not about hearing or not hearing, specifically, it's more about the confinement that she feels as a result of it. 

    At sixteen she was headed where all told her not to go: New York. She had to visit the Statue of Liberty. "A silly tourist trap," one of her sister travelers said. Fatima smiled. Trap or not, she was going to see Liberty up close. (2.6) 

    Fatima loves the idea of the Statue of Liberty—even though everyone warns her against it—because it symbolizes the freedom and opportunity she gets in America that she didn't have before. For more on this, check out the "Symbolism, Imagery, Allegory" section.

    "Please tell me how to get to the Statue of Liberty."

    "Serious?" She called to the other waitress, "Carmen, how you get to the Statcha Lib'dy?"

    "Never been. I think you got to take a boat." (7.4-6) 

    When Fatima asks a waitress how to get to the Statue of Liberty, no one knows the way. It's not surprising, then, that no one she talks to has been to the Statue of Liberty. Everyone is trapped in one way or another by their world, unable to find their own freedom in life. 

    The ferry was nearly empty, the fog thick, the water rough. They ate concession-stand pizza. It was hot and delicious. They bought tourist T-shirts and silly foam hats, Liberty's spiked crown. They took pictures of each other posing like Liberty with Mik's phone. A tourist took a shot of them together, twin Liberties. (21.24) 

    Hmm… It's not just that the girls go on the boat to the Statue of Liberty together, it's that they think of <em>themselves </em>as Lady Liberty as well. To Fatima, and now Mik, she's not just a landmark or tourist trap—she signifies freedom that they want and try to get. 

    An announcement came over the PA system: Due to the inclement weather, we will be forced to turn the boat around. This is as close as we get to Liberty today, folks. Take pictures while you can.

    "What did he say?" Mik said. (21.36-37) 

    We're bummed when the girls don't make it to the Statue of Liberty, because it shows us that they're still not as free as they would like. Whether or not they want to admit it, there are laws that govern their lives (immigration, hearing abilities) and that trap them. 

    Mik and Fatima studied the Liberty brochure in the flashlight. The statue's official name was <em>Liberty Enlightening the World</em>. (22.17) 

    This official name is important because it shows us that Lady Liberty's not a symbol for Americans, but for the world. The Statue of Liberty was intended—at least according to the brochure—to bring light and hope to the world, and in some ways, that's what she does for Fatima. 

    In the dim light and over the gang graffiti they painted the statue, adding six ultraviolet wings to Liberty as she looked over an expressionist cityscape. Then in every color they painted part of what Fatima said she wished she had seen more than anything else: the plaque inside Liberty's pedestal, Emma Lazarus's poem. Fatima had memorized it long before she came to America. (22.31) 

    The mural that the girls create signifies the friendship that they share with one another. Yet, it also features the Statue of Liberty to remind us that they are free enough with each other to become friends in the first place. While others call Fatima a terrorist, Mik sees her for the loving and caring girl she is. 

    The walls were painted glossy yellow, the chipped floor tiles too. The room was too big for the small table and two chairs. The sun shined hard through big windows. She squinted south through the glare. Behind the office buildings was the Statue of Liberty. Fatima could see no more than the tip of the torch, washed out against the too blue sky. (42.2) 

    In the detention center, Fatima can just <em>barely</em> make out the Statue's torch. It's significant that when she's trapped in prison she looks out the window and sees liberty. It reminds her—and us—that her freedom is just outside of the detention center's walls, that so long as she keeps her eyes on the prize, it just might be hers someday.

    Fatima watched until the plane was closest to Liberty, and then she closed her eyes so her Mother of Exiles would never fade into the distance. (44.4) 

    As Fatima flies away, the last thing she sees is the Statue of Liberty. It's not until she's leaving America that she gets her close-up, but even then, she's separated by an airplane. For Fatima, freedom is never really achieved, not in the way she wants it anyhow. 

    She studied what she and Fatima had painted over the abandoned garage. Already the taggers had hit Liberty with a beard and turned the torch into a screw you salute. (45.2) 

    The narrator makes a point to tell us what happened to the mural, perhaps to show us that everything fades and changes over time. Plus, it taints the liberty that the girls felt the day they painted it together. Now Fatima is gone and trapped again, and Mik has to get on without her. 

  • Friendship

    These Americans were wonderful people. She was hesitant at first to answer their questions, to accept Mik's invitation. But now she was glad she came. Back in the camps she told herself she would be fine on her own, but now she knew she had been lying to herself. She missed her sister. (10.13) 

    There's no doubt about it: Fatima is independent and strong. But even go-getters like Fatima need friends, and here she confesses how much she misses her sis back home and wants to hang out with Mik for the company. 

    Life was getting complicated. Now she had three friends to worry about. She gave him half her PBJ. They ate in silence. (24.15) 

    After Gale gives her the pen, Mik thinks about the fact that she went from zero to three friends super fast. She might complain about it here, but we know she was getting lonely before Gale, Jimmi, and Fatima came into her life. Bonus: Friends come with gifts like a swanky pen. 

    Crew Shanelle rolled up the sidewalk. "Deaf bitch can't get no real friends, she stuck with a Zulu terrorist." Shanelle got in Fatima's face. "You ain't nothin'." (27.31) 

    Shanelle is certainly mean, but she's not all together wrong about Mik—she <em>didn't </em>have any friends before the novel begin. Even NaNa casually makes fun of her for being lonely. We can't help but wonder if we get this info to see just how far Mik has come with her new BFFs. 

    The girls were doing it, creating the only thing that mattered— not the mural, though that was stunning with its flying Liberty. The only thing that mattered was what had made them paint it. (31.14) 

    The thing that made them paint it? Friendship. Jimmi recognizes how unique it is for people to find real friends. He certainly has a tough time keeping them himself, and he sees the mural as a testament to the friendship that Fatima and Mik share. 

    "Make Brother Joe Knows happy, child," Mom said. "Make us happy. Fatima, this money? It's nothing until you let us put it to this." (32.10) 

    Fatima can't believe it when Mik's mom wants to pay for her immigration paperwork, even though it will cost all of her savings and then some. She's used to making it on her own. Real friends don't need to be asked to help their buddies out, though. 

    "The Liberty we painted on the PD garage? It wasn't that good."

    He shook no. "You still haven't figured it out. The bombs can fall and waste us, but what you two made will last forever." (38.10-11) 

    Here, Mik can't figure out why Jimmi loves the mural so much. Check out what he says about bombs and lasting forever. We know the mural won't last forever, but to Jimmi, the fact that the girls painted it in the first place—because of their friendship—will endure bombs and then some. 

    Their hatred stunned him. He knew these men, their brothers, mothers, sisters, daughters, helloed them daily in these streets surrounding the hospital. They were his neighbors, his friends. Why now did they kick him? (38.19) 

    Jimmi <em>thinks</em> the peeps who hang around the neighborhood are his friends, but he quickly learns they are most definitely not. The book gives us portraits of close, meaningful friendships, and then contrasts these with these fickle ones so we can appreciate the difference. 

    "I have so many friends, Mom. They in the camps will rejoice at my homecoming. With the sign my sister Mik taught me, they will ask me to lead a new school. There are many who will be eager to know what I have learned here. This is a remarkable opportunity for me. I will send you many letters and tell you of my progress." (42.7) 

    Fatima lies through her teeth when Mik's mom says goodbye to her. She wants Mik and her mom to be comforted, and she does this by painting a picture complete with loads of friends. To Fatima, that's what happiness looks like, even if it's not the truth. 

    Fatima signed, THANK YOU FOR BEING MY FRIEND. (43.6) 

    Need we say more? Fatima is grateful to have met Mik and we know the feeling is mutual. It's even more touching that she signs this instead of speaking it since this way, only Mik gets the message. Besides, it's the language that Mik taught her when they became friends. Aw. 

    The project Jimmi said we were working on? The most beautiful thing in the world? He meant friendship. Sister, this is a lovely country. You have peace here. One needs only a little food, a warm place to sleep and dream, and someone with whom she can share a laugh. I was most fortunate to know these three beauties. They will last forever. (43.14) 

    Mik finally gets it: The mural isn't about the fabulous paint job the girls did or the Statue of Liberty, although those things are cool. It's more about the friendship the girls share that will never be erased. Even though the book ends on a sad note, it reminds us that this is a real friendship that can continue, long after the book ends. 

  • Life, Consciousness, and Existence

    He was filthy but all right. He hopped his board and slalomed the back alley trash into the street and the thickening gray of the afternoon rain. "Hallelujah," he said, opening himself to the thunderstorm. Jimmi Sixes was on a mission. He had to know: Was life worth living? (4.8) 

    We couldn't have put Jimmi's inner struggle better ourselves. The guy is in a lot of emotional pain and dealing with depression, but his plight goes <em>way </em>beyond suffering. He's searching for answers to life's big questions. 

    He closed his eyes but still saw her, would always see her. Why didn't he grab her as she skipped past him? Could he have stopped her from detonating that IED? What would have happened if he never signed on for overseas action, if he stayed home to be with his lady? Would he have saved his baby that night? Saved Julyssa? (8.9) 

    The little girl with the bomb makes Jimmi question every decision he's ever made. He wishes his life took a different route, and he can't help wondering whether his whole life could have turned out differently if he hadn't gone to war. 

    He flashed back to the desert and his armored tank rolling over towns held together by mortar thinned with dust and husk, everything ancient, so durable and fragile at the same time. (11.4) 

    The contrast of an ancient place with modern technology makes Jimmi think about—<em>duh</em>—the meaning of life. He thinks about how we are all from an ancient race (read: humans) but living in the modern world. That's deep, Jimmi. 

    He wrote on his arm: MAYBE LIFE'S JUST GOT HERSELF TRICKED OUT IN THE ODD SHINY MOMENT TO COVER THE TRUE BLUE UGLY, THE ESSENCE OF THE IS. (15.3) 

    Jimmi's poems are written all over the city and they all touch on life, existence, and consciousness in one way or another. So what is the "essence of the is"? That's for you to decide. Write it on your arm and think it over.

    What kind of a world was that? But if Joe were around, he would have said, Kid, you can't give up. You gotta get back out there. Life's too short to waste time mourning. C'mon now, Jimmi, straighten up and fly right. Let's get to work. (17.3) 

    We heart Joe. Not only does the guy have a big, er, heart and pay for Mik's hearing aids, he also rallies Jimmi whenever the guy's down. So much so, that even after Joe is dead, Jimmi thinks about what he <em>would </em>have said to try to turn over a new leaf.

    Jimmi didn't believe in the next world. Why then did he have the feeling Joe was looking over his shoulder as he chiseled the cave floor with a bent screwdriver and a brick? (23.2) 

    How can that be? It doesn't make sense that Jimmi doesn't believe in an afterlife, but he imagines Joe <em>in </em>the afterlife. Is he just wishing his friend were around somewhere, or is Jimmi genuinely changing his mind about what happens after you die?

    Now there was nobody to talk to. Maybe this was God's way of telling Jimmi the time had come to end this life filled with too many lousy surprises. (23.13) 

    For a guy who seems intent on wasting away his life, Jimmi sure does read into everything. He takes his loneliness as a sign from God, even though he doesn't really believe in one or in an afterlife. Hmm… this makes us think Jimmi isn't really certain about what he believes about his own existence. 

    He put the gun to his heart, pulled the trigger, click. He'd been doing this on and off for the last day, rehearsal for the real deal. (25.3)

    Does Jimmi really want to kill himself, or is he just down in the dumps? It's no joking matter—yet Jimmi plays around with the gun for a while before doing anything. Perhaps he's not actually suicidal. 

    At the desk they gave him what he brought in: his backpack and Joe's ashes. As he stepped out into the sunlight he felt as if Life loved him a little, but the feeling didn't last. (28.15) 

    Jimmi experiences big ups and downs. When he's happy, he thinks life or some supernatural power is looking out for him, but when he's down, he's ready to throw his whole life away. 

    He figured he should just step off the cliff. He took a last look at the world, his eyes stopping on that abandoned NYPD garage just east of the O Houses. The angels had blessed it with a six-winged Statue of Liberty. (31.13) 

    The mural that the girls painted is symbolic to Jimmi, but it also shows us some of what he values in life. He may be a bit of a loner, but human connection holds a whole lot of meaning to him.

  • Suffering

    She got by just fine when she kept her hearing aids turned on. She didn't much. The machines were what City Services could give her, old technology that jug-handled her ears and rattled her with phone and radio static, a high-pitched whir. They sharpened and dulled everything at the same time the way water will just below the surface. But turned off and plugging up her drums, the aids screened out the world. She lived for this silky silence. (1.6) 

    Mik's hearing aids don't sound so hot. (See what we did there?) Even she admits that they are not the best the world currently has to offer, but it's all she can get. You'd think they'd be her worst enemy, but she prefers being in control of what and how she hears the world. 

    This was what it was all about—the sadness muted. She could live and die without hearing another people-made noise. Except that guitar. (3.9) 

    This wonderfully poetic description of what it's like to not hear the world seems beautiful on the surface. Except when you think about the guitar. Mik desperately wants to be able to enjoy the sound of music just like everyone else, but instead has to suffer without it. 

    She heard him in her ear, a low, distant rumble, soothing but indecipherable. She clicked on her aids. "Say again," she said. She could talk a little in front of Jimmi. He never would make fun of anybody. (6.21) 

    Embarrassed to talk, Mik feels like her voice sounds strange. It's great that she feels comfortable enough to talk to Jimmi, but it also reminds us how <em>un</em>comfortable she feels the rest of the time. She'd rather use sign language and read people's lips than speak. And while there's nothing wrong with sign language, since she's surrounded by people who don't know or use it, it's isolating.

    She woke with an ear infection. This happened once a month. She was used to the pain. She went through the drill: scrub the ears and aids with hot soapy water, then peroxide, then coat them with Neosporin. She popped the first of the ten generic antibiotic tablets that were always on hand, always liable to upset her stomach. (12.2) 

    Check out how her ear infection is described: She's <em>used to </em>the pain and does a <em>drill </em>because it happens so frequently. It's easy for us to forget the way Mik's hearing impairment affects her life when we're reading a book, but passages like this remind us of the regular suffering she goes through. 

    "These are much smaller machines, quite comfortable, and you'll have far fewer ear infections. The new aids would let you keep your ear canals open and maximize your natural hearing. You won't have those plugs stopping up your ears." SO I WON'T BE ABLE TO BLOCK OUT THE SOUND ANYMORE? (16.14) 

    The doc can't understand why Mik would care if the new hearing aids could turn on and off at will, like her old ones. To Mik, this is just about the worst news she could receive, though. Why? She likes to control the sound instead of having it control her. It allows her to suffer less in her mind. 

    It would be too much, she wanted to say. So many people making noise, so much garbage getting into my head. Folks like Shanelle, that idiot Jaekwon, dumping their nastiness on me. And the other folks, the ones crying out with complaints, trying to hitch up their problems to me, as if sharing their sadness will lighten their burdens instead of doubling them. As if I can do anything to cure their ills. Making me realize I'm powerless. I can barely get by with all that craziness blunted. Reality straight up? No thank you. Connecting to full-blown reality is tapping into full-blown insanity. (16.22) 

    When asked why she wouldn't want to hear, this is Mik's response. Of course it's only in her head, because she's too ashamed to vocalize any of it, but it's really telling. The word that jumps out at us the most is <em>powerless</em>—she feels like she's stripped of her own agency with the new hearing aids. 

    Mik cradled the old radio. A hip-hop symphony throbbed in her arms, rib cage, spine, neck, popped and crackled in her old aids. The low frequency notes soothed her before the song started to fade. Mik cranked up the volume, but the music slipped further and further away. Her hearing aid batteries were dying. (16.31) 

    Mik's dependency on her hearing aids is clear when she can no longer hear the music playing on the radio. It makes her think twice about whether she loves her beat-up hearing aids so much. 

    Mik clicked on the aids. If sound were color, everything was too bright. If it were a hand, it scratched the backs of Mik's eyes with sharpened nails. The metallic sizzle in her throat reminded her of the time that girl in second grade tricked her into licking the top of a nine-volt battery. (24.23) 

    We love color, but we get how too much of it can be overpowering at times. For Mik, her new hearing aids are so strong that it's tricky to get used to. Even with the aids that are supposed to be an improvement, she still struggles to find the right setting and pitch. 

    "Moms doesn't have to work so hard and nobody's lonely and nobody fears and I can hear it all pain free." She opened her eyes.

    Jimmi nodded. "What all you hear, angel?"

    Mik smiled. "What's real." (37.27) 

    What do you think Mik means by "what's real"? It's a poetic way of looking at life, yet we want to dig a little deeper. Is she talking about the fact that she only hears things that are important, or said loudly enough? Or is she pointing out that she only turns on her hearing aids when she <em>wants </em>to hear something? 

    The cat's purring was nice in her new hearing aids. Across the breezeway some old dude was playing sax in his kitchen. Folks argued, TVs screamed commercials, police helicopters chucked. The world was loud, no doubt about that. She thought maybe she could get used to it. (45.27) 

    In the end, Mik decides to give the new hearing aids a fighting chance. She doesn't <em>love </em>them, but she's open to the possibility of using them—and we can't help but notice that Fatima gently encourages her to get to this point. Besides, Mik's seen enough drama and pain that she wants to stop her own suffering. 

  • Foreignness and the "Other"

    The women tiptoed onto the deck as if they were treading landmined sands. For nine days they had been hiding in the backup engine room of this oil tanker fit for hauling two million barrels of light sweet crude and, this time around, thirty-four refugees. Each woman's passage cost twenty-five hundred dollars. (2.3) 

    Our first description of Fatima and her fellow refugees makes them out to be timid women. Boy, is that not doing them justice. These women might be out of their comfort zones, but they are willful, smart, and hard-workers. Nothing like the way people <em>expect </em>Fatima to be. 

    "Lovely headdress. What's that like, being Islamic?"

    "I am not Muslim."

    "You're not Christian."

    "No."

    "Then daggit, what are y'all?"

    "I am human."

    NaNa thought about that. "I guess that's all right. What's the scarf for?" (10.11-17) 

    Fatima's response to NaNa's question shows her honesty and courtesy. She's clearly being asked what religion she is, but instead of going down that road, she simply says she's human. It's a good reminder since so many people in the book treat her like she's different, forgetting that when all is said and done, she's part of the same species. 

    These Americans were wonderful people. She was hesitant at first to answer their questions, to accept Mik's invitation. But now she was glad she came. Back in the camps she told herself she would be fine on her own, but now she knew she had been lying to herself. She missed her sister. (10.13) 

    This time, we hear from Fatima's perspective. Even though Americans seem to despise her and hunt her down, she loves them and their country. It shows us that prejudice doesn't work both ways—it's chosen. 

    "Was a roomful of illegals on the third floor. Gate to the fire escape was rusted shut. Five Chinese living in a single room, you believe it? Hell we gonna do for takeout delivery now?" The old man spit. "Only good thing about it is we don't gotta deal with that stinking old German shepherd no more." (16.11) 

    Describing Joe's death, the old man complains about the immigrants Joe offered a home to. Again, we see the reluctance of people to accept foreigners, even in times of tragedy. Joe helps the less fortunate out, yet he's ridiculed here because the ones he helped aren't from America. 

    Y'all watch out for them tourists. They come over here acting all ignorant, trick you into showing 'em around, next thing you know they buying you dinner and drinks with drugs slipped in them, and you're back at their hotel, no idea how you got there or why half y'all's clothes are on the floor. (21.14) 

    NaNa and Mik's mom's advice for the girls when they visit the Statue of Liberty is important to our understanding of the culture in NYC in the book: All around Mik and Fatima, people don't trust outsiders. 

    A pack of girls shoved Fatima before they ran off. Their screams blew out Mik's hearing aids. They said something about horror, or terror. "Did they just call you a—"

    "Terrorist."

    "Yo!" Mik said. "Come back here and say that."

    "Do not bait them," Fatima said.

    "Folks are ignorant. You gotta lose the scarf." (22.6-10)

    When Fatima is labeled a terrorist just for walking down the street, Mik is outraged, but sadly, Fatima is used to it by now. Their reactions show us how hurtful and inaccurate the accusation is, while highlighting the fact that this is typical for Fatima to endure. 

    They crossed the strip to read a poster taped to the whitewashed glass of a vacant storefront: DID YOU KNOW THAT YOU COULD MAKE 5 -10K/ MONTH WORKING AS AN INFORMATION SPECIALIST FOR THE U.S. DEPT OF IMMIGRATION? (26.18) 

    Immigration posters line the streets, reminding everyone that they can make money turning in illegal immigrants. At first, Mik isn't bothered with immigration issues, but pretty soon she gets offended by these new laws. 

    Closed captions flashed over the TV screen as a senator said: WE OVERRODE THE FIRST VETO, AND WE'LL OVERRIDE THIS ONE TOO. THE PASSAGE OF THE BILL WILL BE A VICTORY FOR THE AMERICAN WORKER, NOT TO MENTION OUR NATIONAL SECURITY. The news anchor said the new law would force local cops to report illegals to Immigration. (30.5) 

    This law is a big part of how Fatima is deported, and it's also significant in showing us how everyone treats illegal immigrants as well. We can see that people are pushing to separate immigrants from Americans with laws and tip lines. 

    Their hatred stunned him. He knew these men, their brothers, mothers, sisters, daughters, helloed them daily in these streets surrounding the hospital. They were his neighbors, his friends. Why now did they kick him? He called out to them by name, and they struck him harder. He staggered to bent knees. "Let her go," he said. "Do what you got to do with me, but let her go." (38.19) 

    As soon as Jimmi is a kidnapper in the town's eyes, they are out to get him. It doesn't matter that he was actually helping Mik—his horrific experience shows just how far the townspeople will go when it comes to keeping people they perceive as outsiders, well, out. 

    I'm like, she's tall, pretty, scar over here, beautiful accent. I'm telling him about you too, so he can look for y'all, but all the old man wants to know is about Fatima's accent, what country. The painkillers, man, messing me up— I tell him where she's from. His eyes bug. Is she legal, he ask me. (41.10) 

    Jimmi recounts how he accidentally ratted Fatima out. He feels badly about it, but his tale notes how easy it is for illegal immigrants to be deported. Why? People are hunting them down, as though they are animals needing to be captured. 

  • Drugs and Alcohol

    The VA set him up with a spot at the halfway house, a part-time sweep job at the hospital, benefit checks he forgot to cash and all the happy drugs he could stand. Added the occasional hit of crack cocaine. But now, eight months later, he was tired of being either jazzed or numb. (4.7)

    We start out learning the truth about Jimmi's past and believing he wants to change; right away, we root for him. We want him to give up cocaine, too, especially because of the numbing effect it has on him. 

    He dumped his many antipsychotic meds into the toilet, grabbed his oversized skateboard and poetry slam notebooks and did a swan dive out the second-story window. A forward flip later he landed in a Dumpster soupy with wet cardboard and kitchen garbage. (4.9) 

    When Jimmi flushes his drugs in the toilet, we believe him that he wants to quit. The only problem? We're not sure he believes himself. He gets rid of the goods, but then he doesn't do anything else to help himself out. 

    Jimmi weaved in and out of the trackside trash. He wanted to rip away his skin. Was this physical withdrawal or his spirit's hunger? A knock of crack would help him get through to tomorrow— (8.2) 

    It's rough seeing Jimmi go through withdrawal, and the book doesn't sugarcoat thing when it comes to what it's like to be addicted to drugs. Jimmi goes through a tough time dealing with the aftermath of flushing his stash. 

    He was low on money, but he wasn't going back to the house to pick up his VA check before he beat the pill habit. If he could outlast the gnawing another week or so, he could go back fresh and tell the doctors he was done with the drugs, the therapy, the halfway situation. (8.4) 

    Jimmi knows he can't hold down a job with a dug problem, yet this doesn't stop him from taking drugs sometimes. We feel for the guy—he's seen a <em>lot</em> of dark stuff in his life, and he's only eighteen years old. Still, the drugs impair his decision-making skills. 

    He regretted he'd dumped all those antipsychotic drugs down the halfway house toilet. (11.5) 

    We've come full circle from the beginning of the book, and here, Jimmi straight-up tells us he wishes he still had drugs to take. We can't help but wonder whether his downward spiral is connected to the fact that he won't let the girls help him—it doesn't seem like he can get better alone. 

    "Jimmi, you're MIA how long, no call, no nothing, and now you come in looking like you slept in a Dumpster. Seriously, what's your problem, kid? You on drugs?"

    "My problem is I'm not on drugs," Jimmi said. (17.5-6) 

    We don't blame Jimmi's boss: He can't rely on someone who is addicted to drugs and always missing from the scene. This is yet another example of how Jimmi's life is erratic and a downer for him. Notice how he blames the fact that he's <em>not </em>on drugs? Even with these consequences, he'd rather the drugs in his life. 

    The cabinet had no stash tonight. He was about to jet when something in the back of the cabinet caught his eye—a dim glint. The microwave clock light reflected off something peeking out from behind a fat bag of sugar. Jimmi shoved the sugar aside and found a Colt .45, old-school silver. (23.9) 

    Jimmi's search for drugs leads him to find a gun and contemplate his suicide. We see the connection between drugs and depression firsthand, but Jimmi doesn't seem to get it. We are left wondering what kind of guy Jimmi would be with no drugs at all. 

    "Let us take you to the hospital, Jimmi," Mik said.

    "So they can drug me back into the great big lie?"

    "What lie?" Mik said.

    "That everything's okay." He kissed NaNa's cheek as he left.

    "Shouldn't we stop him?" Mik said.

    "Only he can stop him," NaNa said. (29.11-16) 

    NaNa teaches Mik and Fatima a tough lesson about Jimmi: It's sweet that they want to help him so much, but ultimately, he's the only one who can help himself. Drugs are powerful, and Jimmi has to be the one to decide to quit them or he'll just relapse again. 

    The field wasn't as he'd remembered. Here were boosted cars now. Stripped and torched they would ugly the meadow for ages. Methamphetamine vials crackled under his soles like bubble pack. (31.12) 

    When Jimmi tries to give Joe a proper send-off, it backfires, and the peaceful field where Jimmi planned to lay his friend to rest is actually littered with drug paraphernalia and trash. Jimmi's not the only one who can't get his act together.

    "Sorry, Mik." He was pale, sweaty. He held up the morphine stick. "Forgot I had it. Needed just a little bit to take the edge… off." He pushed himself to his feet, tucked the gun into his belt. (35.10) 

    In the end, Jimmi is still on drugs. He apologizes to Mik because he's clearly ashamed of himself. Do you think he ever stops using and get the help he needs, or does he just keep doing drugs and regretting it? 

  • Language and Communication

    Her mother had given the young woman her first name, but for her new life Fatima chose the last, a French word meaning to hope. She taught herself the language from schoolbooks that somehow escaped burning—English too. (2.5) 

    While names aren't a big deal for anyone else, Fatima's is <em>super </em>significant. It tells us about her resilient personality, and how she continues to hope regardless of the obstacles in her way. It also shows us the fact that she's a language wizard, nailing three languages and counting.

    The half explosion tore the girl apart but didn't kill her instantly. Jimmi got to her on her third to last breath. As she died she asked him something in a language he didn't understand. The wounded man next to her coughed up, "She said, 'I know I am going into a coffin, but where will my face live?'" (4.5) 

    Jimmi's encounter with the little girl and the bomb is confusing enough without a foreign language in the mix to boot. It's significant that Jimmi needs someone to translate for him, because he doesn't understand <em>anything </em>about his current situation or how this could happen. 

    George sighed. He turned from Jimmi to Fatima and sized her up with suspicious eyes. "Any teaching experience?" Back in the refugee camp Fatima taught English to the younger girls. She lived to teach. She nodded. (5.41) 

    Fatima is used to teaching kids different languages, and that's what she really enjoys. Her knowledge of different languages highlights her open-minded nature and her ability to learn about different cultures quickly. 

    Taking shelter in the near silence, Mik looked back at the papergirl. She was waving. No, she was signing, HELLO, GOOD-BYE, I LOVE YOU. (6.59) 

    Of all the sayings that Fatima could learn in sign language, this is the one that she knows. It's also the phrase that she writes to her sister in her letter. This is meaningful because it shows us how close she is to her sister, as well as how close Mik becomes to her, too. 

    Mik nodded. She wanted to ask the girl how she knew sign, but that would require a whachamacallit, conversation. "Nice day," she said and signed as she hurried away. (9.20) 

    The fact that Fatima uses sign language to communicate with Fatima is special to Mik. People don't know Mik's language, and it's Fatima's knowledge of sign language that draws Mik to her in the first place. 

    "Bombs deafened some of the children back home," Fatima said as she and Mik walked the back way along the tracks. "My sister and I watched the woman from the UN teach them sign, but only for one day before a raid split the camps. Perhaps someday when the fighting ends I will return home. For now I am so lucky to live in these beautiful United States." (9.37) 

    As Mik learns about Fatima's future, it comes as no surprise that it's tied up in language. Fatima yearns to know more about people and doesn't rely on her own language to get her through. 

    "Do not fear, little one. My door is always open to you. How would I say this in sign?" 

    "Why you want to know?" 

    "For when I return to my country. To teach the children. Show me." 

    Mik showed her. Fatima was a quick study. (13.14-17) 

    Foreshadowing alert: Fatima thinks she'll use her sign language to teach kids from her home country, but we're thinking she plans on returning under slightly different circumstance than she winds up finding herself in. Her insistence on learning a new language shows us that she still thinks about the kids in her hometown, even when she's far away from them, though, and that she wants to give them exciting new opportunities through language. 

    While Mik was in the bathroom Fatima studied a free Spanish paper. Articles were translated into English on the opposite page. Fatima taught herself the language as she hunted for news from the east. (26.2) 

    Add another language to Fatima's resume because there's just no stopping this girl. We can't help but wonder why she learns so many different languages instead of mastering one. Perhaps it's so she can soak up as much knowledge as she can—or maybe it's to be as diverse as possible. 

    With the sign my sister Mik taught me, they will ask me to lead a new school. There are many who will be eager to know what I have learned here. This is a remarkable opportunity for me. I will send you many letters and tell you of my progress. (42.7) 

    It's a small comfort to Mik that Fatima will get to use her new sign language skills when she gets back home. Fatima taught Mik a lot about friendship and being herself, and Mik taught Fatima about another language.

    "I better call the ambulance." Mom put the phone to her ear. "How that Jimmi does go on and on." 

    "Yeah," Mik said. "Will you listen to him?" (45.30)

    The final words of the book are a question. (For more on this, check out the "What's Up With the Ending?" section.) They allow us to make up our own ending to the novel, but they also highlight how important all language is to the characters. Mik wants her mom to take Jimmi seriously and listen to the guy instead of just writing him off. The question is: Does she? 

  • Injustice

    He was eager to get back to the Bronx. His girl hadn't written him since a month before the suicide bomber. He left messages on her machine and her mother's, but neither woman called him back. Thirty feet into Bronx West he got his story. His gal lost the baby late term, then slit her wrists. (4.6)

    What Jimmi goes through both at war and when he returns home is completely unfair. There's no explanation for it, no rhyme or reason, nothing that can explain the injustice that he endures. We pity the guy. But does that excuse his actions after this? 

    He had escaped a horrendous refugee situation a few years before. He was known to help illegals with connections to work and housing—for a price. (5.4) 

    Fatima has to be careful when she gets to NYC. She can only trust people who will help illegal immigrants, and she learns pretty quickly <em>that</em> group is pretty small. It seems unfair that she escaped Africa for a better life, only to face more hardships in America. 

    He closed his eyes but still saw her, would always see her. Why didn't he grab her as she skipped past him? Could he have stopped her from detonating that IED? What would have happened if he never signed on for overseas action, if he stayed home to be with his lady? Would he have saved his baby that night? Saved Julyssa? (8.9) 

    The little girl with the bomb haunts Jimmi's nightmares. He keeps searching for answers, pondering his life on repeat. Here's the thing about injustice, though: It doesn't make sense, no matter how hard you try to explain it. 

    Fell asleep in his office with a lit cigarette in his mouth last night, the fire department figured. (16.11) 

    Joe's death seems anticlimactic. He's a good guy, helping out Mik and Jimmi and asking for nothing in return, and his untimely end reminds us that not all good people are rewarded with wealth and opportunity. 

    Crew Shanelle rolled up the sidewalk. "Deaf bitch can't get no real friends, she stuck with a Zulu terrorist." Shanelle got in Fatima's face. "You ain't nothin'." (27.31) 

    It's out of line for Shanelle to say this about Mik <em>and </em>Fatima. But while her intolerance for others is pretty out of control, it also shows us the amount of injustice in society, right down to the way people talk to one another. This is not the first time Fatima is labeled a <em>terrorist</em>, and we're certain it won't be the last either. 

    "Sixty-five grand. I'm <em>pro bono</em>, but you'll need that much for the application fees, fines, and the expeditor. And like I told Mrs. Sykes on the phone, the minute he takes your cash—and it's got to be cash—that's it. Win or lose, you don't get it back." (32.4) 

    The excessive fees Fatima will have to pay to get papers for herself and her sister seem like an injustice to her at the time. Where is she supposed to get her hands on that kind of dough? 

    The local newscaster said, "… abducted on her way home from school by an emotionally disturbed veteran. What makes this story especially horrible is that Mika, as she is known to friends, is hearing impaired." (36.7) 

    Even though the news report isn't true, it incites a riot from the people. Though the mob thinks they are <em>helping </em>right a wrong, they are actually just perpetuating injustice. Jimmi is saving Mik, not kidnapping her, but that doesn't matter to the mob. 

    They roped him up by his ankles, threw the line over the streetlamp's arm and heaved him high. They physical pain was nothing compared to seeing them upside down with fever in their eyes. (38.22)

    Jimmi's hanging is injustice at its worst. He was helping Mik from Shanelle's mob, yet the details matter little to the mob—they only care about hurting him because he's a kidnapper in their eyes. 

    Our reward money line got an anonymous tip about an illegal from a country on our terror watch list. The call triggered a priority check. The report has been filed. She's in the system now. Fatima, I'm sorry, but do you have any ID? (40.14) 

    Is it fair for Fatima to be deported? We don't want to get into the whole immigration debate, but the book asks us to think about whether this is fair or not. On the one hand, it seems like an injustice because of how it comes about, but on the other hand, the police officers are legally required to take her away after receiving a tip. We'll let you decide. 

    The nurse come up to him, tell him she gonna call security if he don't leave, she warned him the last time, "No more methadone for you tonight." He ain't listening to her, his eyes on me as he's backing away. I'm yelling at him, "Yeah, course she's legal," but it's too late. He's nodding, sad eyes desperate, on a scramble for the exit. He's one of them dudes always dialing 555-TIPS for reward money to raise cash for a score. (41.11) 

    It's too bad for Fatima that she gets deported, especially after she helped Jimmi. Just like with Joe Knows, we see that good behavior doesn't necessarily yield just results.