Living in upstate New York with a name like Mohammed Sami Sabiri, Sami has always felt like an outsider—the school nerd, a member of his school’s “leper colony” and the subject of constant taunting. His father fled Iran as a young man because of the secret police and has worked hard to fit into his community, where the Sabiris have become a respected family: original members of the Meadowville subdivision, father on the golf club’s planning committee, mother in the Ladies’ Invitational golf tournament. They send Sami to one of the most elite private boys’ academies in upstate New York.
But Sami feels he doesn’t know his father, and when Mr. Sabiri takes a mysterious trip to Toronto, he begins to wonder if his father is having an affair. So he starts to do a little undercover investigation of his father’s email messages and online accounts. Before he gets too far, the FBI storms the Sabiris’ residence, arrests Mr. Sabiri and confiscates all records that seem to incriminate him as part of a terrorist cell led by one Tariq Hasan. The fact that Mr. Sabiri is the research director at Shelton Laboratories, where anthrax, smallpox and other viruses are stored, escalates the hysteria about potential cross-border biological attacks.
But is Arman Sabiri a terrorist or a victim of a latter-day witch hunt, akin to the Salem Witch Trials, the Holocaust and the McCarthy hearings that Sami’s history teacher, Mr. Bernstein, has been discussing in class? In the context of a thrilling suspense story, Stratton explores the many ways people are separated from each other—the yearning of people like the Sabiris to simply fit in, the distance that secrets create and the evil dance of persecutor and victim, whether the Nazis, the KKK or the bullies at school who torment Sami and maneuver the firing of Mr. Bernstein. All is not what it seems with Mr. Sabiri, and Sami’s quest to clear his father’s name will carry readers along for an exciting ride.
Dean Schneider teaches middle school English in Nashville.