Rummanah Aasi
 Nima doesn't feel understood. By her mother, who grew up far away in a different land. By her suburban town, which makes her feel too much like an outsider to fit in and not enough like an outsider to feel like that she belongs somewhere else. At least she has her childhood friend Haitham, with whom she can let her guard down and be herself. Until she doesn't.
   As the ground is pulled out from under her, Nima must grapple with the phantom of a life not chosen, the name her parents didn't give her at birth: Yasmeen. But that other name, that other girl, might just be more real than Nima knows. And more hungry.And the life Nima has, the one she keeps wishing were someone else's. . .she might have to fight for it with a fierceness she never knew she had.

Review: Nima is a Muslim, working class, a daughter of a single mother, and implied Sudanese American who feels invisible and unmoored. She lacks ties to her native land, not speaking Arabic fluently nor does she feel American as her bullies constantly remind her of her accent and calling her a terrorist because of her Muslim faith. Nima lives alone with her hijabi mother; her only friend is an energetic boy in her building named Haitham, who feels like a sibling. As rising Islamophobia in their suburban American community increases both the bullying at school and Haitham who is physically assaulted in a hate crime, Nima longs for the life she believes she would have had if she had been named Yasmeen as her mother originally planned. She constantly plays the "what if?" game in which she imagines a life of happiness and belonging that are captured in old family photos. With her desire to become Yasmeen growing, Nima begins seeing glimpses of her other self while beginning to disappear. Nima's introspection and the constant feeling of not being 'enough' is beautifully and heartbreaking captured in verse. Readers, especially those who are immigrants, may find Nima and her pain and search for a 'home' to be highly relatable and palpable.  
   There is a dash of magical realism that is introduced halfway into the book. After a string of incidents leaves her feeling desolate, Nima meets Yasmeen, launching both into their parents' past and a battle between reality and what could be begins to form. I found the magical realism a bit hard to follow at times, especially the way it ends and the segue-way back to reality; however I understand the purpose of having Nima's visions of 'possibilities' manifest in the book and finally coming to the conclusion of self acceptance and being enough. Elhillo is a renowned and award winning poet and slam poet performer. Her skillful lyricism and carefully chosen words are artfully profound and achingly beautiful. I read this book a bit slowly than I normally do in order to savor her words. She is definitely an author to follow and I can not wait to see what she writes next.

Rating: 4 stars

Words of Caution: There is a physical assault related to a hate crime, bullying, and failed attempts of sexual assault. Recommended for Grades 9 and up.

If you like this book try: The Poet X by Elizabeth Acevedo, Every Body Looking by Candice Illoh
2 Responses
  1. Not sure if the magical realism would work for me, but I like the sound of the main character grappling with where she fits and not quite fitting in either place.

  2. I hope this book finds its way into the hands of your readers. Glad you are finding good books this month of Ramadan.

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