FROM THE STACKS: Teen novel features well-drawn characters, heart-wretching themes

In "All My Rage," by Sabaa Tahir, Salahudin and Noor are among the few Pakistani teens living in the sleepy desert town of Juniper, California. Once best friends, they haven't spoken since Noor admitted to being in love with Salahudin, who responded by turning her down harshly in a fit of panic.

Now it's their senior year and life is starting to take its toll on both teens, neither of whom really have a support system outside of each other.

Salahudin lives at the Cloud's Rest Inn Motel, the struggling roadside motel owned by his parents. His Ama has been sick with kidney disease and has been resisting treatment. Abu, meanwhile, has turned to alcohol to cope, making everything just a bit more challenging for Salahudin. The customers aren't coming in as much as they used to and the Cloud's Rest teeters on the brink of bankruptcy.

Noor was orphaned as a young child when an earthquake hit the Pakistani town where she was born. Nearly everyone in the family was killed except for her and her uncle, who pulled her out of the wreckage and eventually took her to live with him in America.

He owns a liquor store, though he has ambitions to go to school. His plan is to have Noor take over the store when she graduates so that he can go to college -- it's what Noor owes him, as far as he's concerned.

Noor, on the other hand, is desperate to get out of Juniper and, to avoid her uncle's wrath, has secretly applied to as many colleges as she could afford to, but the rejection letters keep coming in. Noor's hope diminishes with each fresh rejection.

The precarious balance of both Salahudin's and Noor's lives is upset when Salahudin's Ama, with whom Noor had also been close (pre-fight, anyway), dies of kidney failure. Salahudin and Noor become friends again as they grieve, though neither is prepared to share their most secret burdens. Still, both teens show up for each other time and again as they struggle to keep their own lives from spiraling out of control.

This deeply compelling and heart-wrenching contemporary teen story may be rooted in the immigrant experience, but its themes of poverty, debt, substance abuse, racism and generational trauma will speak to a broad range of readers.

The narrative alternates between Salahudin, Noor and Misbah (Salahudin's Ama), whose sections reveal important family history and fill in details of which even Salahudin and Noor are unaware. This exquisite novel features well-drawn characters, impeccable plotting, and exceptional writing.

"All My Rage" was the 2023 Printz Award Winner and the 2022 National Book Award winner for Young People's Literature.

Courtney Waters is the Youth Services Manager at Missouri River Regional Library.