Sophia’s Journal by Najiyah Diana Maxfield

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It is not terribly uncommon for my mind to remain stuck in books long after I have read the last page, but it has been a while since an Islamic young adult book has held me hostage.  This book was recommended to me by Anse Tamara Gray whose Daybreak Press published the book, and while I tried not to have any expectations, even if I had, the book would have blown them out of the water, mashaAllah.  The book is not in the Accelerated Reader database, but I added it to our school’s so that the students could read it, test on it, and then gather together during our next book club to discuss it.  I estimated it at about a sixth grade level fifth month, and would recommend it for middle school, high school students, and adults alike.

SUMMARY:

Sixteen year-old Sophia is on a family bike ride when she finds herself falling into the Missouri River and waking up in 1857 Kansas.  The acclamation of a 21st century Muslim girl in to what history will name Bleeding Kansas is both heart warming and inspiring in its details of every day life.  Sophia takes a hands-on active approach to helping the kind family, the Sampsons, that takes her in, and she learns everything from shooting to cooking to riding a horse.  As she learns the skills needed to survive, she truly becomes one of the family.  The beautiful way that Islam is woven in as such a seamless part of Sophia, whether she is in the present or the past, is inspirational for readers of all ages and made me at least question if I would be that strong.  Sophia’s relationships with the other characters is what makes the story so magical, getting to see the humanity and strength of people coupled with the same emotions of heartache, longing, and love we can relate to, in our own lives, draws the reader in and makes the story fascinating and hard to put down.  In addition to the story, the historical setting of slavery and relations with the native populations add depth that many students should already know about, and will enjoy seeing in a fictionalized account.  The twists and climax keep the reader engaged, and keep me from spoiling too many plot details in this admittedly vague summary.

WHY I LIKE IT:

I enjoy historical fiction and to blend that with a Muslim character is a great premise in my eyes.  Seeing a strong Muslimah lead in a quality entertaining book that is tactfully done is such a rare find.  Sophia’s strength is quiet, yet powerful, and the slower pace forces the reader to analyze themselves as they discover the characters.  It reminded me of Anne of Green Gables in its tone and style and I think that our middle schoolers need this change of pace and I can’t wait to see how Book Club goes.  I love how strong Sophia is with her deen, her convictions about slavery, her determination to help others, and to learn.  She easily could whine and complain that her cell phone is dead and she misses her family, but she doesn’t, she has a tenacity and attitude that elevates her to a status that you want the readers to look up to her and emulate her.

I also like that Sophia is respectful of other’s religions and they are respectful of hers, the author draws on similarities and discusses Islam in a way that shows it as a living breathing part of life, that is truly a breath of fresh air.  The climax and ending are not predictable and I appreciate that as well.

FLAGS:

There is referred to violence violence, slavery, racism, a tinge of  romance (in an 1857s kind of respectful way), but nothing overly graphic or sensationalized.  Overall nothing a middle school student and up could not handle.

TOOLS FOR LEADING THE DISCUSSION:

There are no reading guides or outlines to teach the book, however, I think there is PLENTY in the book to discuss and if you are like me and the few students I’ve already asked to read the book, not talking about it is harder than finding meaningful points to discuss.

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