Allison's Book Bag

Infidel in Paradise by S.J. Laidlaw

Posted on: January 28, 2015

For many reasons, I’m excited to tell you about Infidel in Paradise by S.J. Laidlaw. With one exception, whenever I smugly thought I knew the direction of the plot, Laidlaw surprised me with a different but believable twist. She also thankfully provided a likable main character, something that my most recent reads have failed to do. Because the impact of divorce and romance on teens is realistically captured, Infidel in Paradise serves as a universal story. At the same time, in authentically depicting the isolation that many third-culture young people feel, Infidel in Paradise is also an excellent multicultural novel.

On the surface, Infidel in Paradise is a cliché story about a new girl in a new place. What makes it unique however is twofold. First, there is the setting. Emma’s birth home was Canada, her most recent home was the Philippines, and now her new home is Pakistan. Second, there is the reason for the move. Emma’s family are diplomats, who are constantly on the move. This latest move however was inspired by her father’s divorce. On the surface, Infidel in Paradise is also a cliché story of new girl falling for the hot guy. Or vice-versa. What makes it unique is again twofold. First, there is the fact that Emma is a Christian and the hot guy is a Muslim. These religious differences alone create a lot of cultural conflicts. One huge example is the dress expectations. Second, there is the fact that hot guy is part of an arranged marriage. I admire how Laidlaw realistically depicts the struggle that he feels. Hot guy is at once infatuated with Emma, but also deeply fond of his girlfriend, and wants to do the right thing.

As I read Infidel in Paradise, I kept thinking about what it takes to create a likable character. Mostly this was on my mind, because of my most recent reads. Emma has her disagreeable sides. She blames her mom for the divorce, even calling her a selfish bitch. She initially gets off on the wrong foot with her peers, when she disparages their country. Some of her choices are selfish ones. For example, Emma refuses to continue with the family tradition of telling a bedtime story to her younger sister, because she resents that her dad is no longer there to help. Emma even makes wrong choices, choosing at times to skip school or to sneak out of the Canadian Compound where the family live. Yet I like Emma, a lot, because Laidlaw also shows how much Emma wants to love her family, fit in with peers, and act like a decent person. As such, Emma comes off as an average young person trying desperately to find her place in the world.

The last topic I’ll address is the multicultural aspect. Laidlaw notes in various interviews that the most challenging balancing act for her was explaining the political dangers while at the same time showing the warm side of most Pakistanis. The political dangers are made clear foremost by the fact Emma and her family are safest only when within the confines of the Canadian Compound. These dangers are heightened when Emma’s closest friend and many of her peers are evacuated due to threats on the American Compound. Laidlaw creates a balance by having Emma meet Pakistani adults who treat her with kindness. One even gives her a plant that Emma likes. Balance is also provided through peers, who eventually become Emma’s friends and even put their lives on the line for her.

Infidel in Paradise is my favorite read for this month. I selected Laidlaw’s novel to read, due to my own experience with being Canadian and living in another country. Moreover, my step-mother is from the Philippines. Thus, the book held a lot of potential interest for me. I kept reading it because of the complexity of the plot, the characters, the theme. Everything about Infidel in Paradise appealed to me. I’m eager to read Laidlaw’s next book!

My rating? Bag it: Carry it with you. Make it a top priority to read.

How would you rate this book?

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