Trouble is about fourteen-year old Henry Smith, whose family has been a pillar of their small New England town for generations. But even the venerable Smiths, who have built their solid home as far away from trouble as possible, are vulnerable to tragedy. When Henry's older brother gets hit by a Cambodian immigrant's car, the racially homogenous town reacts violently to both Chay, the teen in the car, and the entire neighboring community of immigrants.
Schmidt masterfully builds the reader's awareness of the tensions between the staid New England community and its neighboring town of immigrants. This gradual understanding was particularly compelling for me, having no prior knowledge of the premise. Equally compelling are the snippets, basically, of poetic text from Chay's point of view that reveal so much about Chay: his story, his dreams, and his character. Set amidst a first-person narrative from Henry's point of view, we can feel the heart wrenching grief of Henry's family tragedy, but at the same time begin to understand that others may be experiencing their own type of grief simultaneously.
Trouble is a worthy read because it treats the issue of immigration and racism as a complex one. Neither group is portrayed as the Good Guys or the Bad Guys. Each has its own set of prejudices, and each has its own history and culture to draw upon and defend. Yet, even as we readers try to come to decisions of our own, we are constantly being provided with new information that changes our beliefs subtly with each new twist. We desperately want Henry (and Chay as well) to be a good person and do the right thing, but even we are not sure what that means in the end. What does it mean to be American? What are "American Values" and are they different from other cultures' values? Should immigrants be assimilated into existing societies, or should they stay separate? Does being a native of a land come with a set of different rights? Schmidt does a wonderful job of letting us think things over on our own without ever telling us what to think.
Trouble by Gary Schmidt