A Very Large Expanse of Sea by Tahereh Mafi

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It’s 2002, a year after 9/11. It’s an extremely turbulent time politically, but especially so for someone like Shirin, a sixteen-year-old Muslim girl who’s tired of being stereotyped.

Shirin is never surprised by how horrible people can be. She’s tired of the rude stares, the degrading comments—even the physical violence—she endures as a result of her race, her religion, and the hijab she wears every day. So she’s built up protective walls and refuses to let anyone close enough to hurt her. Instead, she drowns her frustrations in music and spends her afternoons breakdancing with her brother.

But then she meets Ocean James. He’s the first person in forever who really seems to want to get to know Shirin. It terrifies her—they seem to come from two irreconcilable worlds—and Shirin has had her guard up for so long that she’s not sure she’ll ever be able to let it down. [Taken from the publisher’s blurb.]

I really enjoyed this YA contemporary about a Muslim high school student who is the victim of constant microaggressions. 

The main character, Shirin, is the best part of this book for me. She is such a complex and fantastic character. So used to being disappointed, she has given up on her fellow human beings, and even stops looking at the people around her, out of fear. But she’s so smart, beautiful, and badass that she intimidates everyone. So the irony of the shell she’s built up around herself is that she’s put it up for her own protection, but everyone else thinks they need protection from her. Continue reading

Review—Proud: My Fight for an Unlikely American Dream by Ibtihaj Muhammad with Lori L. Tharps

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Ibtihaj Muhammad’s new memoir begins on the first day of fourth grade. The teacher, who is finding the seven letters in “Ibtihaj” too difficult to pronounce, nonetheless locates Ibtihajj by connecting her last name (Muhammad) with the scarf she’s wearing. The teacher tells her that she’ll call her “Ibti” instead. Ibtihaj goes along with this, but she notices that her teacher doesn’t have any trouble with other longer names: Elizabeth (nine letters) and Jennifer (eight).

This story sets the tone for the rest of the book. Muhammad’s home environment was loving and supportive, but she was challenged in nearly every other space for the right to be present and to be herself: black, Muslim, and hijabi. Continue reading

Review—Mommy’s Khimar by Jamilah Thompkins-Bigelow and illustrated by Ebony Glenn

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In Mommy’s Khimar, a powerful new picture book for children 4–8, a little girl plays dress-up in her mom’s scarves, imagining she’s a queen, a superhero, and a mama bird. 

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Her favorite scarf is the yellow one, and when she wears it, it’s a cuddle from her mom. Even when she takes off her khimar, she carries her mother with her. Continue reading

Review—Sadia by Colleen Nelson

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This YA novel is a heart-warming story about a group of female Muslim freshmen in a Canadian high school. Sadia, Nazreen, and Amira are busy figuring out how they fit into the world. The novel is told from Sadia’s point of view: she is strong, empathetic, and loves basketball. The rules for the tournament might mean she might not get to play in her hijab, and she doesn’t want to take it off. Nazreen is Sadia’s best friend and seems to be growing apart from her—hanging out with a new friend, constantly talking about boys, and de-jabbing at school. The new girl Amira, has just arrived as a refugee from Syria, and Sadia is trying to help her adjust. Sadia is about making friends and banding together to bring about social change. By the end of the story, all of the characters are working to change the world. Continue reading