Maharaj, R. (2010). The amazing absorbing boy. Toronto: Knopf Canada.
I had high expectations for this book drawn mostly from hearing it recently received the Trillium Book Award ($20 000). Unfortunately, I must confess I did not find this book as captivating as I had anticipated.
I did appreciate the viewpoints in this book and how Maharaj helps to highlight the Canada that many Canadians thinks no longer exists. As the Harper majority slowly starts to revert Canadian immigration policy back to the antiquated, racist, and xenophobic “None is too many” rhetoric of the 1930’s it is of crucial importance to recognize this fact: When it comes to the integration of immigrants and refugees into our society we have never seen complete success. It should be noted that the main character of this book, 17 year old Sam, like most refugees didn’t actually want to come to Canada in the first place! Once here what we see through Sam’s eyes are glimpses of uncomfortable, but very real truths:
- Immigrants who come to Canada do NOT always/automatically fare better than their peers from their place of origin.
- Canadians are mostly passive in their acceptance of foreigners. We (native born citizens who work outside of immigrant aid organizations) generally accept, but we do little to actively welcome, aid, and acclimatize new comers.
- It is primarily other immigrants & refugees who help new immigrants & refugees.
In addition to these aspects of the book I also liked how Maharaj made Sam a fan of comic books (funny scene in a Toronto Public Library where some snotty kid gets mad at Sam for calling his “graphic novel” a “comic”… they’re the same thing, Bud!). Sam often makes sense of his world by relating it to comic book scenarios and characters. This is definitely an element of Sam’s character that teens can relate to.
However, what might put teens of this book is that… well, frankly this book is kind of boring. As Donna Bailey Nurse wrote in her review for the Globe & Mail, “Most of the novel’s conversation about race and immigration unfolds through thought and dialogue rather than dramatic action.” A book of over 300 pages needs dramatic action!!!
This book is almost a great recommendation for reluctant readers as it centers on a male in his late teens who like comics, but the length and the plodding plot are big turn offs… sorry Maharaj 😦 However, if you read this book and liked aspects of it (or would rather skip this book and look for something of more particular interest) let me make some recommendations:
If you like hearing about the struggle of immigrants to Canada and how they help to build our society you may like Michael Ondaatje’s In the Skin of the Lion.
If you like reading about a boy coming of age trying to find who he is and what he can do you may like Andre Alexis’ Childhood.