Ahmed wrote one simple sentence in his journal. He knew his snoopy parents might read it. He did it anyway. Ahmed wrote, “I think I might be queer,” and with that thought his life changed. When his stepmother reads this, Ahmed fears for his life, worried that his family will kill him. Instead, they send him to Serenity Ridge, a “treatment” facility to turn gay teens straight. After a year at Serenity Ridge, Ahmed is on his way home, but he knows it won’t be long before he’s sent back. He does what he feels he must do–he escapes.
On the run from his family, Ahmed heads to a safe house in San Francisco. Once there, he changes his name to Ben and disguises himself, but these precautions are not enough. Kids in the safe house have to stay inside the safe house. They can no longer go out into the world, and their actions inside are limited to keep neighbors from suspecting what’s going on. Some kids break the rules, resorting to prostitution and cyberwhoring to make money, and drinking and doing drugs to keep their minds off of their grim existence. The safe house may not be the same as the hellish treatment facility, but it’s not a whole lot better.
What should Ahmed do? Is he better off living incognito until her turns 18? Or should he return to his family and face the music?
Tomas Mournian’s hidden is admittedly the kind of book I might not have finished if it wasn’t for a tour. It is raw, edgy, rough, and dark. It exposed me to a world that got under my skin and made me uncomfortable. That discomfort might normally have driven me away, but in this case, I’m glad I stuck it out. I learned about a modern underground railway that is horrifying, but the alternative is perhaps worse. Survival sometimes calls for behaviors that no kids should ever have to engage in. That harsh reality is sickening, but it is not something we should walk away from.
hidden is a cross-over book, bridging the gap between adult and YA. It’s language and topic areas might be considered too graphic for some teens, but we also have to remember that for other teens, this is everyday life. I think the authenticity, vulgar as it may seem at times, will appeal to many teen readers. I was also glad to see a wide variety of teens portrayed in the safe house environment. There are characters of a variety of sexualities and ethnic backgrounds, another quality that will behoove teen readers looking for people who resemble them in literature.
If you’re looking for a light, fluffy romance or a quick, mindless read, this is not the book for you. However, if you want to read something that is bit more unsettling and thought-provoking, give hidden a shot. I’m not sure that this is the right kind of book for a lot of people, but I think that for some people, this just might be one of the most valuable books they could read.