What does it mean to be free? For Fatima, freedom is what awaits her in America. The only problem? When she gets to New York, she finds that not everyone is pulling out the welcome wagon. Mik hears about new laws being passed about informants and police dealing with illegal immigrants—and while she's initially indifferent to the news, before long, she's downright angry. She wants Fatima to stay in America and hates that her friend's freedom is threatened.
<em>The Orange Houses </em>asks us to think about what it means for characters to be free, and ultimately, what that freedom is worth, and what cost is comes at.
For Fatima, freedom is limited since she is in the country illegally. She does not get upset when her freedom is taken away from her, because she knows that she was trapped in America to begin with.
None of the characters really find freedom in <em>The Orange Houses</em>. They are all trapped in one way or another, but not all of them realize it.
In case you missed it, there's one big relationship in <em>The Orange Houses: </em>between Fatima and Mik. These two gal pals quickly become best friends, talking about family, love, war, freedom, and a whole lot of other heavy hitting topics. In fact, Mik even wants Fatima to accompany her to the doctor and talk about her hearing aid options, a topic Mik generally avoids discussing, even with her own mom. The friendship that these girls form runs deep, propping them up in hard times and staying with them even after they're torn apart.
Although friends are great to have around, they provide opportunities for pain and heartache for the characters in The Orange Houses.
The Statue of Liberty mural is special because it shows us just how close Fatima and Mik have become—their friendship is a source of freedom for each girl.
Raise your hand if you've ever wondered: Are we really born this way? Can I blame my childhood (and my parents) for everything I don't like about myself? How much do things like war and violence change people? Yep, we thought so—it's part of human nature to think about these big head-scratchers once in a while.
The Orange Houses makes us ask ourselves these questions to think about what's happening to Jimmi, Fatima, and Mik in their everyday lives. Jimmi thinks about this stuff all the time, searching for the meaning of life, while Mik grapples with a private life versus one that includes other people and Fatima quests for freedom. The question is, then: Do any of them find answers?
<em>The Orange Houses </em>suggests that all people are born the same, but are shaped by their different experiences.
Jimmi actually wants to keep on living the whole time, but he only realizes how much he values his own existence when it's under attack.
You might think the fact that Mik is hearing impaired is no big deal. After all, she doesn't like people treating her differently because of it, and she makes a point of <em>not </em>improving her hearing with swanky new aids when she gets the chance.
But we think her suffering <em>because </em>of her lack of hearing is really important to her character and <em>The Orange Houses</em>. Why? Well, for starters, she makes a big deal about it herself. The fact that she wants people to know she chooses not to hear sometimes by switching her hearing aids off tells us a lot about her. Plus, we can't help but notice that she does get bullied and mocked at school simply for being different. Mik may act all cool, in other words, but we think she's hiding from a world of hurt deep down.
And that's just Mik. Fatima and Jimmi suffer in their own ways, too, each shouldering burdens as the story unfolds.
Mik suffers more when she can hear and her hearing aids are on.
Mik suffers more when her hearing aids are off and she can't hear.
One of the things that terrifies people about Fatima in <em>The Orange Houses</em> is the fact that she's foreign. Not only that, but people suspect she's a terrorist. Why? It's not based on her actions or personality—nope, this is strictly about her appearance. The fact that she wears a headscarf makes people wary of her, even though she's one of the nicest, most generous, and bravest characters in the book. So though it's true what they say—you can't judge a book by its cover—people judge away anyway, writing Fatima off just because she doesn't look quite like them.
While Fatima comes from another country, though, don't think she's towing the otherness line alone. Nope, Jimmi as a vet and an addict resides decidedly outside the mainstream, and Mik with her hearing difficulties—and difficult relationship with hearing—also remains at the periphery. While this is sort of tough to realize, what the book accomplishes is a pretty detailed portrait of the outskirts, calling readers' attention to just how many people society casts out.
In <em>The Orange Houses</em>, foreignness matters more than personality and principles.
In <em>The Orange Houses</em>, foreignness only matters to people who don't know the characters—true friends see beyond superficial differences.
Life is so tough for Jimmi in The Orange Houses that the normal coping mechanisms—friends and family—can't keep up. So where does he go for relief? Drugs and alcohol. They numb his pain… but they also disconnect him from his life. Jimmi eventually realizes that he has no friends or life to speak of, and he even gets to the point where he wonders if life is worth living. Still, though, he turns to drugs to soothe his pain, called back by their numbness even as he watches them destroy his life.
Jimmi uses drugs to try to numb himself and escape his troubled life.
Even though Jimmi tries to get rid of his drug habit, he can't because he's depressed without the numbing that comes with the drugs.
How would you communicate if you couldn't hear? Or if your voice sounded strange in your own head? What about if you didn't know the language everyone was using around you? <em>The Orange Houses </em>asks us to think about how language works, and what happens when it breaks down—just because someone can hear doesn't mean they are listening, after all. And on the flip side, just because people don't share much language doesn't mean they can't forge meaningful connections.
Mik uses her hearing aids as an excuse not to talk to people. It's not that she can't communicate, it's that she doesn't <em>want</em> to.
Fatima learns languages so she can know more about different types of people and blend into the crowd.
After reading The Orange Houses, we won't be complaining about the tiny things anymore—nope, not when Fatima, Jimmi, and Mik have real problems to deal with. It's easy to sweat the small stuff when living in a privileged world where a wrong Starbucks order or an old iPhone count as major annoyances, but for our main characters, these sorts of problems are the stuff that dreams are made on. After all, these teens have to deal with immigration police, war, bombs, hearing aids, and stuff we've never experienced. Though we hate to say it, when it comes to injustice, they've got it down pat.
Fatima and Jimmi both experience injustice, but Fatima doesn't allow it to change her positive outlook on life.
At first Mik and her mom want to ignore injustice and hope it goes away, but they soon figure out that injustice is all around them.