Hope Ablaze

Wednesday Bks. Feb. 2024. 384p. Tr $20. ISBN 9781250899316.
Gr 7 Up–Nida Siddiqui is a Pakistani American Muslim teen navigating between her passion as an activist poet and her mother’s fear for her safety. While praying in the park, she is accosted by police and local political candidate Mitchell Wilson, then frisked for being a “threat” simply because she wears a hijab. Her dignity unraveled, Nida pours her rage onto the page via a private poetry letter in her journal to Wilson. Unbeknownst to her, someone sends it to a national poetry contest, which she wins, and the poem goes viral. The problem is, her uncle Mamou has been wrongfully incarcerated for years, accused of terrorism as a result of his protest poetry. Meanwhile, the seamy Wilson threatens a lawsuit, and the media has a heyday correlating Nida with Mamou. While Mamou sees his niece’s poetry as an honor, Amma views it as a curse—leaving the teen struggling to find her identity on her own terms. In a hybrid of verse and prose, Rana’s debut fervently tackles Islamophobia, racism, systemic oppression, incarceration, and consent. Elements of magical realism are introduced in a banal way that reads more literal than magical. An extended dream sequence provides a clunky backstory that is at odds with the journey of Nida’s character. Myths about what Muslim terms such as “jihad” mean are dispelled by the author in a logical fashion that may help open some eyes to how they have been twisted by Western culture.
VERDICT A valiant attempt that just misses the mark; a secondary purchase for teen collections.

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