Hira, a sixteen-year-old Pakistani girl, spends a year abroad in America in 2010/2011. It sounds simple, and it’s the perfect setup for the fish-out-of-water or teen-straddling-two-cultures story. However, it’s much more than that. Told as if it’s a memoir, Hira starts out disappointed that she’s sent to rural Oregon rather than to a city and that her host family, a single working mother and her daughter, knows nothing about Pakistan or Muslims. She’s also confused that there is no one to wait on her like back home. She’s expected to contribute to preparing meals, clean her own room, and wash her own laundry.
Prior to arriving in America, Hira is educated about the many negative aspects of the country and its citizens by the exchange coordinator and her stern and judgmental parents. With this knowledge, she manages to find most everything in the U.S. distasteful, often resulting in humorous recollections of navigating an entirely new lifestyle, including swapping modest clothing for bare skin, drooling long-distance over the son of family friends who attends college across the country practicing a first kiss, and being put on the school volleyball team (she knows nothing about sports).
Conversely, she experiences Islamophobia, racism, and—not knowing how to do chores expected of her—frustration while suffering homesickness. It takes outgoing, fun-loving Hamid, an Omani exchange student and Hira’s only real friend at school, to point out that he doesn’t know why she’s so angry all the time. She’s not seeing the positives. She’s not being treated badly. She can take care of herself. People do want to know about her, her religion, her country, her family even if she thinks they ask stupid questions. He basically asks Hira why she chose to come here if she wanted everything to be the same?
Interestingly, the older Hira does mention now and then that she would learn later that she and those at home had been mostly wrong about many of the myths believed and tales told about the evils of the United States. A different kind of coming-of-age story, American Fever shows both cultures’ values and contributions while not hiding the parts that need work, all from Hira’s viewpoint having lived and seen both.
American Fever published August 16, 2022, and is Dur e Aziz Amna’s debut novel.