Bifocal: Book Summary & Themes

Instructor: Beth Hendricks

Beth holds a master's degree in integrated marketing communications, and has worked in journalism and marketing throughout her career.

Deborah Ellis and Eric Walters' novel, ''Bifocal,'' presents a story of racism, terrorism, and ignorance for a young adult audience. In this lesson, you'll learn more about the story and some of the most prevalent themes.

Focusing on Bifocal

The award-winning young adult novel, Bifocal, by the author tag-team of Deborah Ellis and Eric Walters tells the story of racism, terrorism, and friendship in a Canadian high school. The basis of the novel is both timely and current, paralleling many of the stories seen in today's newspapers and on today's newscasts.

Bifocal focuses on the stories and emotions of two central characters, Haroon, a Muslim student, and Jay, a popular Caucasian student from a middle class family. With two authors penning the work, each is able to tackle the voice of one of the book's characters to vary the perspective of the novel.

Both boys are students at Central Secondary High School in Brampton, Ontario, dealing with controversial, all-too-familiar contemporary events. Jay's character is portrayed as a popular, sheltered student who recently transferred to the new school from a small town, where he was sheltered from modern dangers. He becomes friends with his teammates on the football team, one of whom exhibits violent and racist outbursts. The second central character to the story, Haroon, is a child of Afghanistan immigrants, intelligent and Muslim.

When Haroon is suspected of terrorist activity and falsely removed from the school by a SWAT team, readers learn it's a case of mistaken identity and another student is arrested. Students are left to cope with the aftermath of a school lockdown and armed police officers roaming the campus.

The bulk of the novel deals with how Jay, along with his teammates, process the traumatic events - sometimes not for the better. Racism divides the school and the central characters navigate the grown-up issues of stereotypes, profiling and diversity. Concurrently, the novel examines how Haroon is treated in the wake of his false arrest while student target and gossip about him based on his ethnicity and religion.

By the book's end, the two characters have cast aside their differences to become friends, but not without being forever changed in the process.

There are myriad themes throughout the telling of the story of Bifocal, many of which can be gleaned from the book's summary in this lesson. Let's take a quick look at some of the more dominant ideas.

Themes in Bifocal

The work of Bifocal tackles many adult and contemporary issues in a young adult novel format.

1. Racism: The entirety of the novel focuses on the racial divide experienced in the boys' high school, including instances of some students encouraging racism in others and a second set of students becoming victims of racist thoughts and actions.

2. Stereotyping: Stereotyping, or judging an entire group of people by unfair opinions and attitudes, is prevalent throughout the story. Even though we never learn if the accused student is guilty, we see a form of stereotyping when the Muslim student Haroon is mistaken as a terrorism culprit.

3. Terrorism: You don't have to go far to find instances of terrorism in current events, and the subject mater of Bifocal centers on the same issue. A student suspected of involvement in terrorist activities and the impending police raid of the high school set the backdrop for the students' navigation of relationships in the story.

4. Fear: Fear in the novel comes from both sides, including fear of being treated differently and being stereotyped by Haroon's side, and fear of the unknown and new cultures and religions by Jay's side. Many of Jay's actions where he is encouraged to continue racists thoughts could be interpreted as fear of being rejected by his peers.

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