Flying Over Water

Scholastic. Oct. 2020. 272p. Tr $17.99. ISBN 9781338617665.
Gr 4-6–This contemporary fiction novel follows a family immigrating from Syria to the United States and the difficulties they face in their new home. Noura and her family are flying to the U. S. from a Turkish refugee camp the same day that President Trump’s Muslim Ban goes into effect. In Tampa, FL, they are welcomed by Jordyn and her family, who are white. Both Noura and Jordyn have suffered trauma, and together they are able to help each other begin to heal. The novel also follows Noura and her brother Ammar’s struggle to create a prayer room in their school, and the resistance they face from people in the community. Co-authors Hitchcock and Senzai relay the story in alternating chapters told from Jordyn and Noura’s perspective. Several scenes truly leap from the page, such as when Noura and her family visit a mosque and find their place among Tampa’s Muslim diaspora, and when Noura, Jordyn, and Ammar go on a boat trip to a nature preserve. The portrayals of trauma and post-traumatic stress disorder are incredibly poignant, and the combined narratives weave a portrait of two young people discovering their own resilience while broadening their understanding of the world around them. Unfortunately, there are also several discordant and culturally insensitive inclusions. A singular reference to the Black Lives Matter movement feels out of place given that no context or expansion follows. Later an adult references a myth saying, “Some people say it’s a Cherokee legend, but nobody really knows for sure.” A cursory search online reveals that the myth originated with American Christian Evangelist Billy Graham, not any Native American tribe. A conversation about immigration and discrimination in America that omits the perspective of Indigenous and Black people is necessarily flawed and incomplete.
VERDICT Though powerful at times, this novel is hampered by missteps and an attempt to tackle too many topics at once without due nuance, and thus doesn’t reach its full potential.

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