This book was a great glimpse into Somali Muslims in the UK, a world I admittedly know nothing about. Whether accurate or not, I loved the incorporation of words, foods, culture, all of it. And most of all I love that the main character Safia is a Muslima. Yes, the point of the book is a coming of age story as she searches to find herself and define who she is, but in every sphere she is defining herself in, Islam is present. Her home-life, her friendships, her poetry, all of it. My only concern in recommending the book to my students. I think 7th and 8th graders, even in an Islamic School, can understand the temptation of going to the movies with someone of the opposite gender, of sneaking out, I think they can understand dealing with someone they love that is making bad decisions, in this case her brother experimenting with drugs and alcohol (the author doesn’t go into explicit detail). But, truly one page (page 128) just goes too far for my students. Had he tried to hold her hand, or kiss her even, I think the message would still come back to her conscience and her repentance, but the implied attempted rape pushes the issue over the line in my view, for my sheltered students. High School students I think can handle it and I think lends itself well to a discussion on boundaries, respect, and sexual violence. The AR level of the book is a 5.1 and it is a quick 159 page read. There is a glossary of terms and phrases in the back and the font and book size make it very approachable and inviting to readers.
Safia Dirie is a 14 year-old-girl living in East London with her Mom, two brothers, and in close proximity to her large extended Somali family. Safia is a good student, very close to her mother and very devout in her Islamic faith. Like most teenagers she is defining who she is in a world that doesn’t seem to understand her. Unlike most however, she has the added burden of being a religious and cultural minority. In addition to handling friends, and temptation, she also learns that her father who has been missing in Somalia for the last 12 years has been found and is coming to live with them in London. The focus through the whole story is Safia and the reader is definitely drawn into her struggles of how to help her brother, who is rebelling, how to be a good daughter, and with her internal debates to drift closer to a less religious cousin who encourages her join in activities that Safia is hesitant to be a part of. Once her father arrives everything she has known is threatened and the issues and struggles intensify. Despite efforts Safia can’t connect to her father and the changing dynamic of the family tests her in ways that while fiction and extreme, I think many can relate to and sympathize with.
WHY I LIKE IT:
The book does a good job of showing how people are not “good” or “bad” and how often mistakes, are just that, mistakes. It also provides hope that people can recover and improve. The heart of this book is Safia’s and Safia’s heart is pure and has a strong connection to Allah (swt). She sways and swerves, but never loses sight of who she is at her core, and i think for many young Muslim’s today that is an incredibly strong message. That mistakes can be made, and Allah (swt) will forgive. That intentions and repentance are real and valid, irregardless of where you are in life. From friends Safia wrongs, to a brother who realizes what he is doing is wrong, to a cousin who is passed around without a permanent place to belong, to a mom trying to balance a returned husband, every character is fallible, yet not beyond hope.
The attempted sexual violence. The implied drug abuse and lying of Ahmed, Safia’s brother. The lying of Safia to her mom and parents about her whereabouts.
TOOLS FOR LEADING THE DISCUSSION:
The Author’s blog about the book: http://fromsomalia-withlove.blogspot.com/