Yusuf Azeem Is Not a Hero

HarperCollins/Quill Tree. Sept. 2021. 368p. Tr $16.99. ISBN 9780062943255.
Gr 5 Up–Twenty years after the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001, 11-year-old sixth grader and robotics enthusiast Yusuf Azeem lives with his Pakistani American family in a small Texas town. His father is an immigrant businessman-turned-hometown-hero, his Texas-born mother is a freelance journalist, and he has a doting three-year-old younger sister. The close-knit Muslim community in the town, including the Azeems, attend local activities such as youth football games and parades alongside their non-Muslim neighbors, partially in an effort to fit in. However, changes are afoot in their town: hateful graffiti is sprawled on buildings; a white nationalist group takes root and challenges the Muslim community’s long-standing plans to build a mosque; and school bullying of Muslim students, including Yusuf, occurs daily. These events make it clear to the Muslims of Frey, TX, that they may never be truly embraced for who they are, throwing into question the personal and communal sacrifices that they have made, and forcing Yusuf to forge his own path in the pursuit of justice. Relatable and multidimensional characters of various ages and backgrounds are portrayed with nuance and empathy. Journal entries written by Yusuf’s Uncle Rahman from his own childhood at the time of the attacks offer additional insight into the impact of 9/11. The young characters’ struggles to balance personal commitments to their faith with parental expectations and their own desires will resonate with readers of many backgrounds. An author’s note explains that the story was inspired by the experiences of Ahmed Mohamed, nicknamed “The Clock Boy,” a Muslim Texan school boy who was wrongly accused of bringing a bomb to school.
VERDICT Gripping, well-paced, and poignant, this is an essential purchase for all libraries and a must-read book of our times that raises important questions about who controls historical narratives, what it means to stand up for justice, and the legacy of an event that cannot be forgotten.

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