Friday, September 23, 2016


Marina Budhos is the author of award-winning fiction and nonfiction. Her novels for young adults are Tell Us We’re Home and Ask Me No Questions. Her nonfiction books include Remix: Conversations with Immigrant Teenagers and Sugar Changed the World, which she cowrote with her husband, Marc Aronson.

Budhos applied the Page 69 Test to her latest novel, Watched, and reported the following:
Page 69 in Watched is the end of one scene and the beginning of another; both, however, are family scenes: Naeem and his half-brother, Zahir, and Naeem with his parents, dreading, waiting for them to come home as he must tell them he’s failing high school.

In the first scene, Zahir is dreamily talking about Spiderman, his favorite super hero, and saying that if he went to Forest Hills High, maybe he’d meet Peter Parker.
“There are special cells,” he explains. “They absorbed the radioactivity. They go through his bloodstream, even his heart, especially the aorta. That’s what’s so effective.” Zahir used to pore over an old illustrated book on the body I bought for a dollar on the street. Now I can see, he’s wobbling between believing in Spider-Man’s special powers and his own crazy, factual head.”
I guess I love this passage because it’s all about brothers—so central to the book—and about heroes and believing. The two brothers share and communicate through comic books, and Naeem himself is sorting out not just what he believes, but how to move out of his own dreamy boyhood, into the hard realities of growing up.

The next scene his parents arrive:
After Zahir goes to bed, I sit at the kitchen table, my stomach twisted raw, waiting for my parents to come home. I’m back to feeling bruised, shaky, as if someone has knocked me hard in the ribs. Taylor is right. Tell them.

The key scrapes in the lock and my parents shuffle in, looking worn, preoccupied. Amma sets down the crinkly glazed plastic bag she uses for groceries she gets half price, when the shops close. Before I can say a word, Abba drops down in the La-Z-Boy. He doesn’t even bother to go in the bedroom and change into his favorite lungi, as he always does, the fabric washed so many times I can see its pale white threads.
To me, this is the other central relationship: his parents, with whom he feels such chest-sucking guilt. He notices and knows everything about them—how exhausted, how thrifty they are to just get by—and yet he’s all smashed up, knowing he’s failed them.

Thus, p. 69 gets to the core of the book—Naeem’s deep attachment to his family, his guilt, his screwing up, which leads him into a central dilemma—getting in trouble with the law and ultimately agreeing to be an informant.
Visit Marina Budhos's website.

My Book, The Movie: Watched.

--Marshal Zeringue