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“Testa writes stories told in poems of surpassing beauty, fragility and depth…Riveting-and tender.”
Kirkus Reviews

Something About America

Written by Maria Testa
Published by Candlewick Press

What happens to a dream divided?

Draping colorful scarves around her neck, the thirteen-year-old from Kosova thinks of herself as a typical American schoolgirl, happy to blend into eighth grade with her friends. But for her parents, seeking a new life in Maine was not a choice but a necessity a way to escape from a war and find medical care for a daughter burned in a fire that scarred her up to her chin. While her underemployed parents still talk about “home” and continue to feel like foreigners ten years later, their daughter is torn between the guilt about their displacement and pride in her new identity. Then a hateful event changes everything, stirring passions throughout the entire region and forcing residents old and new to re-examine what it means to be an American.

Narrated by the young daughter from Kosova, the nuanced and deeply moving immigration tale was inspired by true events: In October 2002, the mayor of Lewiston, Maine wrote a letter to the elders of the local Somali community, asking them to turn future refugees away because the town was “maxed-out physically, financially, and emotionally.” Seizing the opportunity, a racist group staged a rally that drew thirty people, only to be met by some six thousand residents in support of the Somalis — people of all cultures and backgrounds who knew something about America.

Primary ISBN: 9780763634155

Available As: Paperback
Middle Grade, Age 12 or older

Community Represented: ,

Themes: , , , , , , , , ,

Setting: United States (Maine)

Character’s New Arrival/New American Status: Refugee

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Engagement Projects & Resources:

Share your favorite resources for this book with info@imyourneighborbooks.org.

Reader Engagement Project

With the experience of assimilating refugees and resettling secondary migrants, the two small cities of Portland and Lewiston, Maine (where the book is set) are microcosms of America’s new immigration. The series of actual incidents in 2002-2003 that inspired the book, reflect the best and worst of a long-term community’s response to new immigration. Educators have created powerful connections for students by sharing the news articles and event materials from the period as well as clips from the documentary The Letter: An American Town & the “Somali Invasion” (Arab Films International).

Engagement Tools:

View & Download articles (2002-2003) about the Somali community in Maine from the Portland Press Herald
View & Download materials from the Many & One Rally, a 2003 Lewiston rally in support of Maine’s “new arrivals”
View & Download a Something About America Study Guide created by Mary Clare O’Grady, Librarian Monroe Middle School (Wheaton, IL) in conjunction with the book being a One Book, One School selection
View & Download a Something About America Study Guide created by reading specialist Tracie Vaughn Zimmer
View & Download the engagement guide created for Something About America by I’m Your Neighbor for a city-wide read

Video Engagement Tool:

The documentary, “The Letter: An American Town & the “Somali Invasion” (Arab Films International) covers the same Maine incident that Maria Testa writes about in her novel, Something About America.

The film clips below open with comments from the hate group / Nazi group , The World Church of the Creator. This group scheduled a rally in Lewiston, Maine for January 11, 2003. They choose Lewiston because of a letter that Lewiston Mayor Raymond sent to the city’s Somali elders the previous October. That letter asked the elders to stop new immigrants from coming to Lewiston. Some found the letter embarrassingly ill-informed while many others found the letter openly racist. The World Church of the Creator thought the letter signaled that Maine would be a good recruiting ground for white supremacists.

Tensions in Lewiston grew in the lead up to January 11th. The city of Lewiston forced by free speech provisions to allow The World Church of the Creator, prepared in the best way they could. Those preparations involved anticipating riots and violence. January 11th would be the biggest police action in Maine’s history.

Churches, social groups and many others came together to hold a counter rally called the Many and One Rally which would be held across town to stand up against bigotry, stand up for peace and celebrate the community’s cultural diversity.

In the end on January 11th only 30 people showed up for the World Church of the Creator rally while across town over 3,000 people showed up to celebrate diversity and justice at the Many and One rally.

View & Download Clip 1
Lewiston prepares for the The World Church of the Creator (White Supremacist group) rally.

View & Download Clip 2
Alternating between the two rally sites on January 11, 2003.

View & Download Clip 3
Aftermath of the rallies and Lewiston’s thoughts about the future.

These clips are used by permission of filmmaker Ziad Hamzeh and Arab Films International and can be used only in association with studying the novel Something About America.