Last Updated on February 25, 2021, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 1263
Nora is a composer and the daughter of Driss Guerraoui and Maryam Bouziane. After Driss’s death in a hit-and-run accident, Nora moves back to her hometown in the Mojave Desert. Because her father encouraged her passion for music, Nora was closer to him than to her mother and her older sister, Salma. However, the discovery of Driss’s affair shakes her faith in her father. At Driss’s funeral, Nora meets Jeremy Gorecki, a former classmate who is now a police officer, and she soon begins to date him. Significantly, Nora is the only one in her family who strongly suspects foul play in the death of Driss. She repeatedly follows up on the investigation, revealing her perceptiveness and tenacity. Nora is also emblematic of the conflicting pressure that the children of immigrants face. While she has experienced racism all her life as a woman of color, she is also shamed by some of her community members for wearing western clothing. She labors to shape a unique identity for herself as an American woman of Moroccan descent. Initially shown to judge people by their outward behavior, Nora grows to develop a greater understanding of Driss, Maryam, Jeremy, and Salma. The novel’s close implies that Jeremy and Nora remain together in the future.
A police officer and former marine who has served in Iraq, Jeremy is a complex, self-aware character with a traumatic past. Jeremy’s mother died of an embolism when he was a teenager, which caused his father to sink into crippling depression. As a result, Jeremy was largely neglected as a child and was forced to serve as a parental figure for his younger sister, Ashley. Jeremy was also bullied in high school. However, he displays uncommon resilience, ultimately joining the police force and studying for a degree in American history. He is struggling to overcome his anger issues and is a loyal friend to volatile ex-marine Bryan Fierro. Jeremy has had feelings for Nora for a long time, and he is happy when they reconnect and fall in love. It is Jeremy who discovers A.J.’s expired driver’s license, which leads to the final reveal about A.J.’s crime of killing Driss. Jeremy reunites with Nora towards the end of the novel, and it is suggested that they eventually have children together.
Having immigrated to the United States from Casablanca with her husband, Driss, and daughter Salma in 1981, Maryam often feels torn between her Moroccan and American lives. Adapting to relative isolation in America has been the hardest transition for Maryam; she compares this to being “orphaned.” Although Maryam’s disapproval of Nora’s unconventional career choices paint her as a strict, unrelenting parent, she is also shown to be full of surprises, like when she reveals that she has known about Driss’s affair for a long time and has chosen not to burden her children with that knowledge. Thus, Maryam is a multilayered character and a more understanding parent than the text initially implies.
Husband to Maryam, father to Salma and Nora, and the owner of a diner in the Mojave Desert, Driss moved to California from Casablanca in 1981 to escape a totalitarian regime. After his initial donut shop establishment is burned down in a xenophobic attack, Driss successfully runs “The Pantry,” showing resilience and tenacity. However, Driss’s success causes resentment among community members, such as Anderson and A.J. Baker, who view him as an outsider. Although Driss is a devoted and empathetic father, especially to Nora, he begins to drift away from his wife, Maryam. He falls in love with a young woman, Beatrice Newland, whom he plans to marry. Tragically, he is run over by A.J. in an attack fueled by racism on the very day he plans to reveal his secret to Maryam and Nora. Driss illustrates both the complex reality of the American dream and the fallibility of even the most idealized parent through Driss.
Salma, the older daughter of Driss and Maryam, is married to Tareq Darwish, with whom she has twin children, Aida and Zaid. Salma represents the ideal child of immigrants, as she is successful as a dentist. However, Salma is a far more complex figure than her polished exterior suggests. Significantly, the section in her perspective is the only second-person account in the novel; this indicates that she has a strident inner monologue that is at odds with her outward demeanor. Under pressure to appear perfect, Salma grows addicted to painkillers. Salma has a tense relationship with her younger sister, Nora, whose free-spiritedness she perhaps envies. Towards the end of the novel, Salma surprises Nora by encouraging her to be the best musician she can.
Efraín is a Mexican immigrant who works as part of a cleaning crew in the Mojave. He is married to Marisela and has two children. The only eyewitness to the hit-and-run that kills Driss, Efraín is afraid to report his account to the police, fearing that the police might question his immigration status. After Nora offers $25,000 for information on her father’s hit-and-run, Efraín comes forth with his eyewitness account. However, the text does not judge Efraín for his opportunism; rather, it highlights the weight each choice carries for an immigrant of color.
Seventy-eight-year-old Anderson Baker is the father of A.J. and the owner of a bowling alley. Anderson is shown to be narrow-minded in his views on gender and race; he notes that Detective Coleman is black and that her short hair is not “attractive on a woman.” Anderson also displays a streak of xenophobia, resenting Driss’s success. Although Anderson is a loyal father, taking the fall for A.J. after the car that hit Driss is traced back to Anderson, A.J.’s account highlights how Anderson abused him as a child. Thus, Anderson emerges as both the cause and enabler of his son’s worst tendencies.
Anderson Junior “A.J.” Baker
A former classmate of Nora’s and the son of Anderson and Helen Baker, A.J. helps his father run a bowling alley. A.J. is married to his high school girlfriend Annette, with whom he has a daughter. Although A.J. considers himself a “regular” guy, others, like Nora, view him as a racist bully. A.J. often blames minorities for his shortcomings in life, and he finds in Driss a ready scapegoat for his frustrations. He hits Driss with his car and leaves him to die. A.J never admits to deliberately hitting Driss, but Efraín’s eyewitness account, coupled with Driss’s sense of being watched by “Baker’s son” on the day of his death, suggests that A.J.’s role in Driss’s death is sinister. A.J. lets his father take the fall for his crime initially, but he is eventually uncovered as the perpetrator, arrested, and sentenced to five years in prison.
Detective Erica Coleman
Erica Coleman is the investigating officer in Driss’s hit-and-run case. Married to Ray, Coleman adopted Ray’s son, Miles, at infancy. Coleman loves Miles unconditionally and is often depicted as hurt by his adolescent dismissal of her. She finds solace in her work, though she has to deal with considerable institutionalized sexism and racism as a black, female police officer. Coleman is a thorough investigator who discovers the surveillance tape that traces the silver Ford that hit Driss back to Anderson Baker. She also discovers that it was A.J., not his father, who ran over Driss.
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