When I was in college, I stumbled upon Remix: Conversations with Immigrant Teenagers, a collection of fourteen interviews with new Americans, by Marina Budhos. I was barely 21 then, and I was desperately searching for “me” reflected in the pages of a book. I found bits of myself mirrored in the teens profiled in Remix, and the book became very precious to me. Soon after, I read Budhos’s two novels: House of Waiting, a stunning work of historical fiction set in 1950s New York City, and The Professor of Light, a luminous novel about the Indo-Caribbean diaspora. I’ve been a fan of Budhos ever since.
Years later, Budhos’ and my paths crossed in South Asian women artist and writer circles in New York City when I began writing about diversity and children’s literature and she published her first young adult novel Ask Me No Questions, which went on to win the James Cook Teen Book Award and New York Public Library Notable and Best Book. Since, she has published another young adult novel, Tell Us We’re Home, and co-authored a nonfiction book with her husband, Marc Aronson, Sugar Changed the World: A Story of Magic, Spice, Slavery, Freedom and Science, which was a 2010 Los Angeles Times Book Award Finalist.
I spoke to Budhos via email and phone on the eve of the publication of her third young adult novel, Watched. Set in Queens, Watched tells the story of Bangladeshi American teenager Naeem Rahman who, when caught shoplifting, strikes a deal with NYPD and becomes an informant and spies on his Muslim neighbors. School Library Journal calls Watched “a fast-moving, gripping tale that conveys Naeem’s restlessness and the sense of paranoia that comes from being watched constantly,” and the book is especially timely this year.