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Book Review

The Terrorist by Caroline B. Cooney has been reviewed by Focus on the Family’s marriage and parenting magazine.

Positive Elements

Spiritual Content

Sexual Content

Violent Content

Crude or Profane Language

Drug and Alcohol Content

Other Negative Elements


Pro-social Content

Objectionable Content

Summary Advisory

Plot Summary

Laura Williams tolerates her family’s move to London, mainly because it allows her a sense of freedom that she did not have in suburban America. In London, she can take a bus or train anywhere she wants to go and does not have to rely on her parents or a friend with a car. Unlike her classmates at the prestigious international school she attends, Laura is not interested in foreign affairs or politics. She is only interested in boys and getting a date to the upcoming Thanksgiving dance.

Things change when a bomb in the London Underground kills Laura’s younger brother, Billy, on his way to school. Laura can’t accept that this was a random terror attack. She believes someone targeted her brother. Laura begins to question all of her friends at school to learn if any of them have ties to terrorists.

She questions her friend Jimmy at lunch. He claims to be American. At first he is happy to tell her about his family’s heritage, but when she seems to doubt his statement that he is only distantly Japanese, he becomes perturbed. Laura asks to see Jimmy’s passport as proof he is really American, and Jimmy grows angry. Her best friend, Consuela — Con, for short — tries to convince Laura that she is on the wrong track because no one at school would want to kill Billy.

Her friend, Mohammed, also counsels her to stop questioning people and looking for answers to Billy’s death. It can only lead to trouble. Laura remembers he is from Palestine, a land with a lot of terrorists. She asks to see his passport, but Mohammed admits he is in the country illegally. He does not have papers. His family, like many others at the school, pay to have the school officials overlook the fact that they do not have the proper papers. Mohammed tries to get Laura to think about what her faith has taught her about life after death. Sitting in class, Laura realizes that no one, especially not God, has the answers she desperately wants.

After Thanksgiving, Jehran, one of the coolest, wealthiest and prettiest girls in school, announces that she is going to have an American-type sleepover at her house. She will need guidance from all her American girlfriends about how a sleepover works. Jehran makes a point of asking Laura to the party, insisting Laura ask her parents if she can attend. Jehran wants to have this party to help lift Laura’s spirits.

An iron fence surrounds Jehran’s house. Guards with guns patrol the hallways. Laura is saddened to learn that Jehran’s parents are dead. She lives with her brother, who is in his 30s.

While the other girls are in Jehran’s dressing room trying her perfumes, Jehran and Laura talk. Jehran asks Laura for help. Her brother is going to force her to marry a much older man in order to secure their safety back in their homeland. She will be a virtual slave to this man. She begs Laura to give her Billy’s passport. Jehran is very small with dark hair. Even Laura’s mother once remarked that she resembled Billy. At first, Laura refuses, but Jehran continues to plead for her help to escape to America with Billy’s passport.

The first day back to school after the sleepover, Jehran gives Laura an envelope with hundreds of English pounds. She wants Laura to buy her a plane ticket to New York. Once she arrives there, she will blend in with the other immigrants, and her brother will never find her. Because Billy’s passport labels her as an 11-year-old, Jehran will not be able to travel alone. She must have a guardian.

Jehran asks Laura to buy a plane ticket for herself as well because Laura is 16. She can act as “Billy’s” guardian. Laura will only have to fly to New York. Then she can turn right around and fly home without Jehran.

Laura explains that she can’t be gone for 24 hours, as her parents would call the police looking for her. Jehran comes up with a plan to pretend they are going with the Walking Club’s weekend trip to Edinburgh. Laura finally agrees to help.

Laura’s other friends at school begin to suspect something is wrong with her, and some are suspicious of Jehran’s motives. Jehran’s prejudice against Americans is well known. One friend, Jimmy, secretly follows Laura as she makes her way to a tourist agency in a seedy part of the city.

When he learns that Laura has bought two tickets to New York over the holiday, and one is for her dead brother, he thinks she has lost her mind. Unsure of what to do, he does not tell anyone, but continues to keep his eye on Laura. Her friend, Mohammed, is suspicious of Jehran’s sudden friendship with Laura, but when he tries to ask his father about Jehran’s family, he is ordered to stay away from them.

Laura’s parents agree to let her go to Edinburgh on the school trip. She meets Jehran at the train station and gives her a jacket and ball cap that belonged to her brother. They also cut off Jehran’s long hair. When Laura tries to carry Jehran’s leather bag, Jehran becomes belligerent. Only she can carry the bag.

Laura’s friend Con calls the Williams’ house before going to Edinburgh and learns that the Williams think Laura is going with her. Con talks to Mohammed and Jimmy, and the three put together what they have seen over the past few weeks. They realize what Laura and Jehran are planning to do. They fear Jehran is the terrorist who killed Billy just so she could use his passport. They decide to call the authorities.

Laura battles her fear while going through the airport, but notices that Jehran does not seem afraid. She seems to be amused at what they are doing. When Laura suggests they stop to get a hamburger before the flight, Jehran refuses. She loathes hamburgers. Laura tells her that if she is going to pass as an American boy, she had better not be so picky about her food. Jehran apologizes for being rude and says she is only nervous about the trip, but Laura knows she is lying.

After the final checkpoint before reaching the gate, Laura tells Jehran that she is not going to get on the plane. She is going to go home. She fears her parents will find out she is not on the trip and will worry. When Jehran pleads with her, saying that she has spent weeks on this plan, Laura’s skin crawls. Jehran could only have spent weeks on this plan if she knew Billy was going to die.

Jehran neither confirms nor denies Laura’s accusation that she had something to do with Billy’s death. Jehran clutches her leather bag to her side and acts like there is a bomb inside. Laura grabs it from her and accuses her again of killing Billy. As the people around them hear her words, they begin to suspect there is a bomb in the bag and start to run away. Jehran knows she cannot get on the plane now, so she turns and tries to blend in with the fleeing crowd. Airport security, alerted by Laura’s friends, arrives. They have Laura carefully put down the bag and then they apprehend Jehran.

Jehran insists that she had nothing to do with Billy’s death, but the authorities take her into custody. The leather bag only contained money, not a bomb. In the end, as Jehran’s brother and his armed guards have abandoned their house, and nothing could prove Jehran’s guilt; she is put into foster care. She walks away from the home several months later and is never heard from again.

Laura and her parents return to America. Although they pick up the pieces of their lives, none of them, especially Laura, ever truly get over Billy’s death. But Laura is left with the knowledge that she was loved by him and by her friends back in London.

Christian Beliefs

Billy thinks that no one attends church in England but the Episcopal priests. The Episcopal Church in England has choirs dressed in formal robes. The congregation sits and stands all the time for different prayers. Laura recites the Lord’s Prayer with the congregation, but cannot say the line “Forgive us our trespasses, as we forgive those who trespass against us,” as she does not believe she will ever forgive Billy’s murderer.

Laura has an ill-informed idea of heaven. She hopes her brother is in heaven, selling things to the angels and getting the place into shape. She remembers the Congregational services in America as being three short hymns and a sermon.

Laura’s friend Mohammed asks if her faith tells her about Billy’s afterlife. Laura thinks about how she wants her God to be someplace taking care of Billy, but that she does not pray to God for help in finding the terrorist. She wants Billy’s death to mean something to God.

Laura cries out to God, asking why He is so mean. Her father tries to comfort her by saying God was not mean; the terrorist was evil. Laura argues that God allowed the bomb to kill Billy. Her father explains that God uses good people to stop evil.

Laura’s mother thinks about how Christmas is the holiday for giving and how children start off not being able to give, only take things. Receiving is the beginning of love. The family attends church on Christmas Eve, but Laura feels like she is watching aliens performing strange rituals. She asks her mother why they should celebrate one child’s birth when another child died. Her mother explains that the real celebration is Easter, when Jesus is raised from the dead so Billy can be raised from the dead.

Laura wants to believe her brother is alive somewhere, but can’t fathom a place big enough to hold the souls of everyone who has died. Laura knows that many of the other students in her school think America is the great Satan.

Other Belief Systems

Laura thinks her friend Mohammed fits the horoscope ideal of the perfect stranger. Laura considers how people think religion is an agreement between people and God, but she thinks it’s just a group of people coming together or a government meeting.

Her current events teacher explains that some observant Muslim families will kill a girl who falls in love with a Christian. A Muslim friend explains that this shows a family’s love for the girl. Her family cares about the daughter’s purity and eternal position.

Authority Roles

Laura and Billy’s parents are caring and loving. They grieve the loss of their son and try to help Laura cope with her emotions.


Crap is the only objectionable word.

A stranger stops Billy and hands him a package he says Billy accidently dropped. Billy thinks it must belong to one of his friends who have run ahead. When he realizes it’s a bomb, he covers it with his body to tries to protect a woman with a baby from it. The bomb explodes, killing him.

The International School has bomb drills. Many of the students have bodyguards or come to school in protected limousines because their families fear they will be kidnapped.

Laura wishes it had been her who had been killed. She graphically thinks about how her body would be blown to bits and her blood sprayed everywhere. She tells a friend how she and her family once visited the London Dungeon. It showed different ways people have killed others over the years.

A teacher explains that Muslim girls from observant families may be severely punished, even shot, for disobeying their cultural laws. Jehran tells Laura that the older man her brother wants her to marry would punish her if she dared to give birth to a daughter, not a son.


A student asks a Muslim girl why her parents would send her to a school where some girls sleep around.

Discussion Topics

Get free discussion questions for this book and others, at FocusOnTheFamily.com/discuss-books.

Additional Comments/Notes

Alcohol: It is legal for 16-year-olds to drink in England. Laura goes to a pub with some of her friends. The boys all have beer.

Drugs: Although no drugs are taken by any of the characters, they are talked about. A student asks a Muslim girl why her parents let her attend the school if they think all Americans do drugs. Laura thinks about how some of the foreign families moved their money to England via drugs.

Lying: Laura lies to her parents about going on the school trip so that she can accompany Jehran to New York.

Stealing: Billy has a collection of bricks stolen from construction sites around London.

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Book reviews cover the content, themes and worldviews of fiction books, not their literary merit, and equip parents to decide whether a book is appropriate for their children. The inclusion of a book's review does not constitute an endorsement by Focus on the Family.

Episode Reviews



Readability Age Range

9 to 12


Caroline B. Cooney






Record Label



Originally published by Scholastic Inc. It is now available through Open Road Media Teen & Tween, an imprint of Open Road Media


On Video

Year Published





We hope this review was both interesting and useful. Please share it with family and friends who would benefit from it as well.

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