Be Sure to Pray, Zain! By Humera Malik illustrated by Gonmuki

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Be Sure to Pray, Zain! By Humera Malik illustrated by Gonmuki

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A very relatable 31 page early elementary chapter book about not only establishing salat, but doing it for the right reasons.  The book is not preachy or reprimanding, and even with a moral purpose, Zain manages to connect with readers and be funny and likable along the way.  Told from the view of the young narrator, realization is achieved, confessions made, understanding gained, and inshaAllah regular prayer established.  A great book to share with your own children when salat integrity is in question, and a great reminder of the power of salat that kids will enjoy reading even when it is not, alhumdulillah.

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SYNOPSIS:

Zain starts off by introducing himself as a kid who lives with his parents and is having an  awful week.  He rewinds and begins with recapping Monday.  Right away he acknowledges that Monday actually started out ok as he was having an awesome dream, but that sometimes when he is mad he only sees and remembers the bad things.  Because of his awesome dream he didn’t want wake up and pray Fajr, but his parents reminded him that when you pray you can ask anything you want from God and that praying protects us from bad decisions.  He drags himself up to pray and asks God to help him on his spelling test.  Later that day he took his test, said Bismillah, and aced it.  So he concludes that maybe Monday wasn’t so bad, and Tuesday wasn’t either.

On Tuesday, Zain sticks up for his neighbor Joey who is being picked on by some older bullies.  Later that night Joey’s parents come over to thank him and take him out for ice cream in appreciation.  Wednesday, starts out great at school, and after school he gets to bake blueberry muffins with his mom.  When the muffins are done he was suppose to pray Asr and then take the muffins to his friend Ali’s house.  His mom reminds him to take the safe way and not cross the busy street.  But, Zain forgot to pray Asr and sees no cars coming and chooses to take the short cut across the road.  When he gets to Ali’s house his backpack is open and the muffins are missing.

The rest of the week continues with highs and lows.  Many of the lows coming when he doesn’t pray.  At one point a friend comes to tell him to come to the park to play soccer, and he knows his mom is going to ask him to wait a so they can pray together, so he pretends not to hear and rushes out the door.  Another day he chooses to not miss the end of a show he is watching to pray and heads off to tutoring without praying at all.

When the book rejoins Zain in the present he is feeling bad about kicking a friend playing soccer, cheating on a math test, and not getting to taste his muffins.  He unloads everything that has happened over the week, and his parents calmly and patiently ask him if he has been praying.  When Zain realizes he has been neglectful his mom likens prayer to bricks in a wall that help keep bad things out.  His parents tell him that when we miss our prayers, we end up with holes in our wall and bad ideas can sneak in.  Resolved to stay strong, Zain wakes up the next morning to pray Fajr and have a good day, inshaAllah.

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WHY I LIKE IT:

I love that it stays with a young kids perspective and doesn’t get weighed down with hadith and ayats and lectures.  The parents let him learn from his mistakes and he comes to his own realization, not through their reprimanding or catching him in his deceitfulness.  The book is a great way to remind kids that it is their responsibility to pray and that Allah swt knows everything, so that connection has to be made between the person and their creator, it isn’t something you do only when someone is watching or telling you to do it.  I do wish that when he did resolve to pray that there would have been a bit of an outpouring to Allah.  I love that he had tears in his eyes when he told his parents everything, but I think it would have been really powerful to see Zain ask Allah to forgive him and to help him keep his wall strong.

The book reads smoothly, and the illustrations are well done and inviting.  Early chapter book readers will enjoy the font and format and knowing where the story is going with the days of the week chapters.  On one occasion I wish the word “wudu” would have been used instead of ablution, and I’m not sure what Zain has against carrots, but nothing too major will keep kids from enjoying the story and understanding it.

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FLAGS:

none.

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TOOLS FOR LEADING THE DISCUSSION:

This book is for children learning to pray and realizing how important salat is.  So while it won’t work for a book club, I really hope teachers in Islamic Schools and Sunday Schools will read the book aloud or assign it to their students.  It is a great teaching tool, a great reminder, and a fun story too.

 

A Girl Called Genghis Khan: How Maria Toorpakai Wazir Pretended to Be a Boy, Defied the Taliban, and Became a World Famous Squash Player by Michelle Lord illustrated by Shehzil Malik

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A Girl Called Genghis Khan: How Maria Toorpakai Wazir Pretended to Be a Boy, Defied the Taliban, and Became a World Famous Squash Player by Michelle Lord illustrated by Shehzil Malik

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This children’s biography of Maria Toorpakai Wazir, Pakistan’s world famous squash player, is simplified and suitable for children 2nd grade and up.  At 42 pages with bright illustrations older kids will understand a little bit more about the cultural norms that were being oppressive and the strength and risks Maria took to play a sport she loved and defy the Taliban while disguising herself as a boy. Younger children will probably only get her determination and perseverance, which is impressive in its own right.

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In 1990, Maria was born in the mountains of the Tribal Areas in Pakistan.  Conservative society and strict gender roles amplified by the control of the Taliban in 2001.  Maria’s parents supported rights for their sons and daughters, and allowed Maria to cut her hair, dress like a boy, and play sports.

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Her father called her Ghenghis Khan after the great warrior and when the family moved to the city of Peshawar he even introduced her as his son to people.  As Ghenghis, Maria was always picking fights and encouraged instead to play sports to channel her wildness.

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She fell in love with the game of squash, and when she went to join the Squash Club she had to submit her birth certificate which revealed that she was a girl.  The director let her join the club, as the only girl among 400 boys.  But now her secret was out.

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She was bullied and her family ridiculed, but she kept playing and kept winning.  The President of Pakistan awarded her honors for her outstanding achievements, but that infuriated the Taliban and they threatened her family.

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As a result Maria had to hide, and would practice at night, in secret, and for 3 years she played against the wall in her bedroom.  Appealing to squash clubs around the world for help, she finally heard from Jonathon Power in Canada, willing to help her get away from the Taliban and be able to play.

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She left behind everything she knew at 20 years old to train in Toronto.  She still represented Pakistan in tournaments.  She studied, she prayed, she succeeded.  She now is back in Pakistan establishing health clinics, sports clubs, and schools for girls and boys.

The story is inspirational, and well told, it shows how culture limited her, not religion, and that in a larger city, culture was a little less conservative.  Muslim and non Muslim children will be inspired by her efforts, her willingness to look like a boy and her determination to excel.  Muslim kids will enjoy that it shows her praying, but might be surprised to see her in shorts and tank tops.  The book would be a great conversation starter about women’s rights and how it isn’t just in Pakistan that women struggle to have equal opportunity and respect.  It also might many children’s first exposure to the sport of squash.

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There is an afterward at the end with more information.  A list of additional reading about other inspirational women, a selected bibliography and a highlight timeline of female firsts in sports.

 

Nowhere Boy by Katherine Marsh

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Nowhere Boy by Katherine Marsh

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I was not expecting to be so absorbed by this 362 page AR 5.4 book.  I knew it was about a Syrian refugee in Brussels and his friendship with an American kid living in Europe for a year, so I knew that Islamaphobia and immigration would all be factors.  I also knew that as a middle grade book it would be optimistic, and a bit of a stretch at times,  but when I had to pause in the first chapter to wipe the tears off my cheek, I knew that while it could be billed as, another refugee story, it really was going to be a poignant story about humanity and friendship and family and making a difference, so I settled in and was swept off to Belgium and the adventure of two determined kids.

SYNOPSIS:

The book opens with 14-year-old Ahmed on a boat with his father hoping to reach Greece from Turkey, when the boat stalls, his father and two other men, the only other people on the dinghy that know how to swim, jump into the sea to drag the boat.  When a storm swell hits them, his father is lost and Ahmed, who left Syria when an explosion killed his mom and sisters, is all alone.

Max is 13 and his parents and sister have just arrived in Belgium for a year.  Not a great student, Max learns that he will be going to a local school where French is spoken, and will be repeating 6th grade.  Less than thrilled with the news, he is additionally hurt that his parents didn’t tell him first.

The two stories start off separate with Max trying to find his footing in school and scouts where he understands very little, and has no desire to learn, and is also getting picked on by a kid named Oscar.  He learns about the history of his street and house during World War II from his after school tutor and a police officer that used to live in the house they are renting and makes regular checks on how it is being maintained.  

 Ahmed has been staying with Ibrahim and his family, another man that tried to drag the boat in the sea, but with news that they are probably going to be forced to return to Iraq, suggests that Ahmed register in as an unaccompanied minor so that he could find a place to stay.  Ahmed knows that if he registers in Beligium he will never make it to England, he hires a smuggler for 300 Euros to get him there.  When the smuggler steals his money and his phone, Ahmed worries his organs could be next, and jumps out of the moving car,  

Ahmed runs through a neighborhood looking for shelter and safety and some warmth from the frigid air.  Ahmed finds the basement of a house unlocked, he then finds a wine cellar room that is empty and decides to stay for the night as he figures out his next step. One day turns in to two and before he knows it, he has a routine of finding food upstairs during the night, which he records so that he can repay the family one day, caring for the family’s discarded orchids, and working on his English.  Then one day Max goes downstairs and discovers Ahmed living there.

Deciding he isn’t a terrorist, Max decides not to turn Ahmed in nor tell his parents, and the two become friends.  The two enlist Farah, a nice Muslim girl at school to help, and they get Oscar too, to forge papers to get Ahmed in to school.  While the biggest problem should be keeping a kid hidden in the basement, and keeping him fed and entertained, the situation is compounded as terrorist attacks by Muslim extremist plague the city and Europe, making everyone on high alert.  The police keep checking in and anti immigrant sentiment rises.  When Ahmed gets accused of being a bomb maker his secret is out, but can his knowledge of how a jewish boy was hidden in the neighborhood during the war keep him free? Nope, I’m not going to spoil it, you have to read it, trust me, you’ll thank me for it!

WHY I LIKE IT:

I love, love, love, the history parallel, and the truth in the story of Albert Jonnart and Ralph Mayer that is woven into this modern fictional story.  I love that Max so plainly says that the stories are the same and that laws that aren’t right shouldn’t be followed, yes! The book reads a lot like Refugee by Alan Gratz crossed with The Boy at the Back of the Class by Onjali Q. Rauf with the kids being so heroic and determined and awesome, throw in a dash of The Diary of Anne Frank, switching out a boy for a girl, a Muslim for a Jew, the basement for the attic, and a diary for a fictional story, and you have this book.

I love that the adventure and excitement shows how resourceful kids can be even when they don’t share common language.  Max speaks English and is learning French, he is helping Ahmed learn better English and some French, when they talk to Farah who speaks Moroccan Arabic /Berber, they often have to go through Oscar who speaks French and English.  Yay, for American television and kids who’s hearts are bigger than the obstacles they are taking on.  Additionally, when the kids hit a dead end, they reach out to Jews in America for help, knowing that the two religions have more in common than politicians and the media would like to think.  Seriously, kids should rule the world.

Ahmed is a religious boy that prays, refuses meat even when hungry to ensure it is halal, and makes sure that Max knows in Islam kindness and charity are the norm and commands, not the violence that people are doing in the name of his religion.  A lot of the moms of the kids at school where hijab, and the author gets the Islam right and believable.  It doesn’t get preachy, but a fair amount of information about Islam is shared.

FLAGS:

A lot of lying. Some violence, death, hate speech. There is mention of smoking and the adults I think drink wine at one point.

TOOLS FOR LEADING THE DISCUSSION:

I’m hoping to do this as a middle school book club selection, because it really is so good.

Author’s website: https://katherinemarsh.com/books/nowhere-boy/

Teaching: https://www.teachingbooks.net/tb.cgi?tid=60364

 

Poe Won’t Go by Kelly DiPucchio illustrated by Zachariah Ohora

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Poe Won’t Go by Kelly DiPucchio illustrated by Zachariah Ohora

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This silly book has an abrupt ending, but plenty of giggles along the way that make you forgive the sudden conclusion.  Additionally there is a lot of diversity in the illustrations, a little hijabi girl of color that steals the show, and a lesson about asking and listening that children 4-7 will find sweet and enjoyable.  It is an AR 2.5 and has 36 pages.  Some are text heavy, but my 4 year old had no problem sitting through it with the silly pictures and large 9 x 11.5 size.

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Poe is an elephant that has planted himself in the middle of the only road in Prickly Valley.  The citizens do everything they can think of to get him to move.  They honk, write him a ticket, bang pots and pans, play trombones, blast megaphones, tickle, beg, and bribe.  They even bring in mice, and magnets, and motivational speakers.  Clowns and copters, cranes and pastors, magicians and the mayor, no one can get him to move.

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After lots of discussions involving coffee in stryrofoam cups, a little girl named Marigold, asks the mayor if anyone has asked Poe.  Such an obvious suggestion, the Mayor laughs and says she doesn’t speak elephant.  Little hijabi Marigold says, “anyone can speak elephant if they just listen hard enough.”  She is also fluent in kitten and hedgehog.

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Marigold discovers that Poe is waiting for a friend that is very late.  A reporter asks if the friend could be wearing a polka-dot-tie, it is determined that it is possible and that also perhaps he is sitting on his friend. At that Poe stands up, finds his friend Mo and the two walk off.

The randomness of Poe sitting on his friend made me have to read the story a few times checking to see if a page was missing or stuck together, but alas no, it just suddenly is resolved and ends with no clues indicating that the elephant is sitting on a monkey.

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I love that the name in the text for the little girl is Marigold, and that the illustrator chose to depict her as a little Muslim girl of color.  On many of the other pages with the town folk trying to move the elephant, there are people of all colors, body shapes, hairstyles, head gear, eye wear, facial hair, body art, etc shown.  Marigold seems to be at work with her father at their flower shop, and the mayor is a female.

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There is nothing religious in the book, save a pastor trying to persuade the elephant to get behind him, and it doesn’t appear that the author or illustrator are Muslim (it is published by Disney Hyperion) which in someways makes the normalizing of a girl in hijab all the more sweeter.  Sure, someone her age wouldn’t be required to cover, but the message and representation is deliberate and appreciated.

Omar & Oliver: The Super Eidilicious Recipe By Maria Dadouch illustrated by Aly ElZiny

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Omar & Oliver: The Super Eidilicious Recipe By Maria Dadouch illustrated by Aly ElZiny

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This super cute Eid book works great for ages 5 and up.  Written in both Arabic and English, not just translated in to both languages, the book features a Muslim celebrating Eid and a Christian boy working together to try and get Omar’s sister’s cookie recipe so they can be the best cookie cooks ever!  The book would work for either Eid and with the adorable illustrations, and included recipe, the book will get lots of requests all year round.

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Omar is excited that his friend and neighbor, Oliver, is sleeping over the night before Eid.  They boys are playing when Omar’s sister Judy brags that her friend has given her the best cookie recipe in the entire world.

Naturally, Omar and Oliver want to be the best too and offer to help Judy.  She refuses, and the quest to get the recipe is on, so that Omar can make them for Eid and Oliver for Christmas.

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The boys try to steal it through the kitchen window.  But Judy catches them and slams the window shut.  They then try binoculars from the stairs, but the boys can’t write fast enough and Judy grabs an umbrella to shield the recipe.  Undeterred the boys pull out a drone, but the zoom on the camera isn’t quite good enough.

The boys then see Judy rushing out of the kitchen and run in to see if she left the recipe.  They don’t find it, but they peek at the cookies and see that they are golden brown and if left in any longer might burn.

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Tempted to let them burn, a sign on the fridge saying, “Eid: a time to share and show we care,” makes the boys realize saving them is the right thing to do.  Judy says she too saw the sign and rushed out to copy the recipe for the boys.  They then all work together to make lots of Eidilicious cookies and share them with everyone on Eid.

The book starts with some tips for parents on how to present the bilingual book and ends with a cookie recipe, as well as some information about what Muslims and Christians celebrate.  I love the illustrations and that they are two page spreads, but the page with the note is the whole resolution and the note is split on the folded binding and honestly I missed it when I read the book myself and when I read it at bedtime to my kids.  When I opened the book wide to take pictures it was crystal clear, and if you were reading it to a group you might not have an issue.

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I also didn’t love the word, Mashallamazing, I obviously get what it is trying to do, and I feel like it works with Eidilicious, but that Mashallamazing is a stretch.  Additionally, if it is claiming to be an interfaith book, a word like that might need some explaining.  I got a bit hung up on it, so I had my 13, 11, and 9 year olds read it and they did as well.  I also didn’t think the pulling out of the story to ask the reader if the boys were successful in getting the recipe was necessary after each attempt.

Disclaimer: I don’t speak Arabic and cannot comment on that, sorry!

 

The Green Dinosaur Umbrella: A Hajj Story by Amina Banawan illustrated by Rania Hasan

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The Green Dinosaur Umbrella: A Hajj Story by Amina Banawan illustrated by Rania Hasan

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This 36 page Hajj story covers the steps of Hajj by following a green dinosaur umbrella as it gets passed around to those that need it more than the person who currently holds it.  A great story for ages 4 to 8, the large 8.5 by 11 colorful pages-full of diversity, kindness, and bits of information help inspire and amuse our little Muslims.

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Ibrahim is getting ready for hajj and picks out a green dinosaur umbrella to take to Makkah.  When he gets separated from his father while making tawaf, it his umbrella that his father sees to find his grateful son again.

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Outside Ibrahim sees an old man sitting in the hot son and gives him the umbrella realizing the old man needs it more that he does.  The old man takes the umbrella to Mina and makes dua’as for the generous boy at Arafat.

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When a tour leader comes around to hand out water and juice, the old man determines that he needs it more than he does and passes it on.  The leader carries it toward Jabal Ar-rahma and Muzdalifah.  He is awoken from his sleep by two men arguing and uses the dinosaur to defuse the tension.

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The next morning he sees a mother carrying a young child and gives her the umbrella as the rain starts to come down.  She and the baby are kept dry as they go to throw their pebbles as the jamarat, and kept them dry as they walked back to Mina.

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After they trim their hair and prepare for Eid, she sees a little girl looking sad and gifts her the green dinosaur umbrella. After performing the Sa’ee, her father offers to take her to feed the pigeons and she runs off forgetting the umbrella, as it rolls under a book shelf of Qurans.

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After making his farewell Tawaf, Ibrahim goes to get a Quran for his father and finds his special umbrella peeking out from under the shelves.

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A beautiful fun book that shows the steps of hajj for even the little ones to enjoy all while teaching lessons about generosity, selflessness, and worshipping Allah swt, alhumdulillah.

Katie Woo’s Neighborhood: Open Wide, Katie! by Fran Manushkin illustrated by Laura Zarrin

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Katie Woo’s Neighborhood: Open Wide, Katie! by Fran Manushkin illustrated by Laura Zarrin

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Oh how I love when a popular series includes diverse characters, and more specifically Muslims, I’m biased that way.  In this Katie Woo early reader for KG-2nd grade, a trip to the zoo and wondering how animals clean their teeth ties in to Katie’s trip to have her teeth cleaned by Ms. Malek, a hijab wearing dental hygienist, and having her teeth checked by dentist, Dr. Ali.  Spread over three chapters, the 5×9, 32 page book familiarizes kids with what happens in a dental check-up and shares some silly facts about animals too.

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SYNOPSIS:

On a trip to the zoo, Katie’s dad jokes that the alligator must need a big toothbrush.  This reminds Katie’s mom that Katie has an appointment with the hygienist the following day to have her teeth cleaned.  The next day on the way to see Ms. Malek, Katie sees her friend Haley, who along with her brothers also goes to the same dentist.  Everyone seems to love Ms. Malek.  In the waiting room theres lots of toys and when she gets called back, she gets to sit in the big blue chair that tips back.  Ms. Malek uses a little mirror to  check every tooth, before she brushes them.  She then tells Katie that hippos let fish clean their teeth.  This visit Katie doesn’t need X-rays taken but next time Dr. Ali says she will.  After picking a new toothbrush and toy, she is all set to go home.

On the way home, Katie sees some more friends and tells them about hippos using fish to clean their teeth. Pedro tells Katie that the dentist at the Zoo has to clean the tiger’s teeth.  Thinking that he must be really brave, Pedro explains that the dentist first puts the tiger to sleep.  Later that night, Katie brushes and flosses her teeth and then tells her dad that maybe when she grows up she can work at the zoo and clean the elephant’s tusks.

WHY I LIKE IT:

I love the diversity of Katie and her friends, and the people in her neighborhood.  Normalizing diversity in literature is a great way to open kid’s eyes to the world around them.  I also like that there is a glossary of words in the back, many dental in nature.  There is a page of Katie’s questions to get readers thinking.  And there is even an interview between Katie and Ms. Malek the dental hygienist.

FLAGS:

None.  There is nothing religious in the book, other than the names of the dentist and hygienist and the scarf on Ms. Malek.

TOOLS FOR LEADING THE DISCUSSION:

I think this book would be great at story time, and in classrooms.  It isn’t meant for a book club, but I think even in a group setting, kids will be reassured about a trip to the dentist and find the animal information funny and informative.   Kids might even have some more fun animal teeth facts to add to the discussion.

The Day Saida Arrived by Susana Gómez Redondo illustrated by Sonja Wimmer translated by Lawrence Schimel

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The Day Saida Arrived by Susana Gómez Redondo illustrated by Sonja Wimmer translated by Lawrence Schimel

saidaThis absolutely gorgeous lyrical book will sweep you up and hold you tight as you imagine a world where more people take the time to get to know one another through the power and beauty of language.  Over 32 pages that are exquisitely and whimsically illustrated the words dance and come to life in English and Arabic as a friendship is formed.  Perfect for preschool through 3rd graders, older children and adults alike will be softened by the kindness and example shown between two little girls.

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Told from the perspective of a little girl that meets a new girl in school named Saida and decides right away that they are going to be friends.  Unfortunately Saida speaks only Arabic, and the little girl only English.

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But it is no problem, because the little girl is going to help Saida find her words.  She is going to look everywhere to let her get rid of her tears and throw away her silence.  So that she doesn’t see questions and sadness locked up in her.

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That night at home, the little girl’s parents tell her about Morocco and find it on the globe.  They explain that Saida’s words don’t work here and that her words wouldn’t work in Morocco.

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Undeterred the two girls start teaching each other words in their languages.  Some stick, some float away, but the two learn and communicate and connect. They find friendship in learning each other’s words.

They recite a poem by Jacqueline Woodson and tells stories about Marrakesh. The two girls plan to travel the world together. The book concludes with both alphabets shared and the reader wishing to join the little girls on their adventures.

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I was blown away by the presentation of the book and the feeling of compassion and cultural appreciation depicted.  Such a beautiful approach to welcoming someone different in to your life.

There is nothing Islamic or religious in the book, or really even cultural, aside from language.

No True Believers by Rabiah York Lumbard

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No True Believers by Rabiah York Lumbard

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This YA Fiction book by a Muslim author filled with many Muslim characters has a lot going for it, and while I didn’t love it, and felt that it was trying to do too much in 304 pages, I think most early high school readers will enjoy the cyber hacking plot, the islamaphobia and white supremacy themes that keep the book fast paced, relatable and timely.  The main character is a Muslim and has a Muslim boyfriend and all family members are fine with it, she also gets a tattoo with her mother’s permission and breaks the law, but usually with worthy motives.

SYNOPSIS:

Salma Bakkioui is the high school aged daughter of a North African father and convert mother.  They go to the mosque a few times a year, but don’t really practice, it is more heritage than actual intentional praying five times a day, yet somehow ayats from the Quran and hadith do float in and out of the story.  It is Ramadan, and the Muslims in the book are fasting except for Salma, who suffers from EDS (Ehlers-Danlos Syndrome) a connective tissue disorder, her best friend Mariam, who lived next door has just moved away because her father’s chiropractic business was failing due to racism and Islamaphobia.  Salma tried to use her hacker skills to send him more business, but ultimately they moved to the UAE.  Amir, the supportive boyfriend, oud player, and fellow Edward Norton fan is steady and good and constant.  As are her partying friend Vanessa, her physical therapist and her daughter, unfortunately, things are about to get really crazy, really fast.

When Salma and Amir go over to meet the new neighbors that have moved in to Mariam’s old house the blaring TV broadcasts a terrorist bombing nearby in DC.  The neighbors seem nice, but something is off about them, and Salma can’t quite figure it out.  From the dad and son’s matching number tattoos, the mom’s nervous behavior, and snippets of overheard conversations, it becomes apparent that something infact fishy is going on.  Salma and her younger siblings start getting bullied by classmates, and teachers and administrators turn a blind eye, cops interrogate Salma at school, and illegal snooping on the dark web reveal that the neighbors aren’t as innocent as they claim. As more and more is uncovered about the neighbors, Salma learns that she better have a plan to get out, as she is about to be framed for a lot of destruction as the new face of Islamic extremism.

WHY I LIKE IT:

I like that Salma is relevant and relatable, and while I know a lot about her family and friends, and illness, for some reason I don’t feel invested in her, and I am totally willing to conceded that that is on me, and others would really identify with her, but for some reason as much as I wanted to connect with her, I didn’t.  The supporting cast is fairly fleshed out, I’m not entirely sure why Dora and Boots are highlighted so much and I didn’t feel a tug on the emotional heartstrings of Mariam leaving, of Amir leaving, of Salma possibly saying good-bye.  I felt like even Salma and Amir being a couple and being connected through Edward Norton and Fight Club was a bit forced.  I didn’t feel it was organic or natural, it was almost like the author was trying to make a point of Muslim youth having relationships, and finding imams that were ok with tattoos. Rather than it being a plot point it seemed like it was trying to voice the author’s perspective whether it fit smoothly into the storyline or not.

I do like the tech and and the parallels between extremism whether Islamic or Christian, foreign or domestic, that drove the action of the book.  The unraveling of pieces and connections seemed a bit rushed, with unnecessary tangents affecting the pacing overall of the book, but at least there were answers to help it all make sense at the end, and make the story feel complete.

Having never written a book, I don’t know if some of the hiccups are first novel related, but I really hope the author keeps writing and keeps changing up what the mainstream Muslim protagonist lead consists of.  I love that Salma is smart and level headed and aware of her world, while still growing and owning up to her faults.  It isn’t a coming of age story, but she sets a great precedence for continued growth, loving your family and trusting yourself too. I particularly like the nuances in racism.  Some of the kids at school are jerks and bullies, some staff and teachers are bigoted and prejudice, but the right wing conspiracy groups are actively working, and their level of hatred and intelligence to mask it is great to see in a YA book.

FLAGS:

Relationships, kissing, references to marijuana brownies being consumed, violence, cursing, lying, illegal activity.

TOOLS FOR LEADING THE DISCUSSION:
I can’t use this book as a book club selection since the two main characters are making out in the first chapter, but the book really is more than a relationship story and I would be ok with my young teen reading it.  The illegal hacking is more problematic then helpful in the end, and the language, and other deviant behaviors exhibited aren’t done for shock value alone, I think a discussion after the book would be great: privacy, hate, conspiracy, faith, religion, friendships, etc.