Samira Surfs

Kokila. Jun. 2021. 288p. Tr $16.99. ISBN 9781984816191.
Gr 4-8–It’s been three months since 11-year-old Samira and her family fled persecution in their homeland of Burma; three months since they paid a man to board a boat to cross the Naf River, seeking safety and a better life in Bangladesh; and three months since that same river swallowed her grandparents alive and dragged them to the bottom of the sea. In Bangladesh, Samira and her family do their best to make a life as unregistered refugees living outside of the refugee camps: Samira sells hard-boiled eggs along the beach to tourists; her brother cleans dishes and tables at a local café, and her father performs grueling work on shrimping boats. As refugees, they face resentment, suspicion, and threats of violence by some members of the local Bengali population, who view them as competition for scarce resources. Meanwhile, Samira struggles to pursue her own dreams, which conflict with her parents’ cultural expectations. New friendships along the beach offer community and the opportunity to surf, an activity that gives Samira freedom and the chance to face and overcome her fears. Written in verse, this well-paced novel weaves Burmese history and the plight of the Rohingya, a persecuted predominately Muslim ethnic minority. Characters are multidimensional and are portrayed with nuance and empathy. Illustrations offer additional texture and help bring the plot to life. Although this is a work of fiction, it will hopefully inspire readers to learn more about the “surfer girls of Bangladesh,” the Rohingya people, and Southeast Asian history.
VERDICT A compelling novel that spotlights the history and contemporary circumstances of the Rohingya while tackling universal themes of friendship, belonging, and identity. Pair with other works about trailblazing young women, such as Julie Abery’s Yusra Swims or a biography of Malala Yousafzai.

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