This is a little bit different from what I normally do, but I was perusing Twitter when I saw this:
In my head, I was hyperventilating. I had heard Tahereh Mafi was going to move away from her high fantasy books to write something that felt much more autobiographical.
I knew that it would be about being Muslim American and the months and years after 9/11.
However, I didn’t think I would get to read an excerpt from the book. I didn’t think I would read it today, a few days after the Supreme Court ruled in favor of the travel ban from Muslim-oriented countries.
Here’s what the book is about
It’s 2002, a year after 9/11. It’s an extremely turbulent time politically, but especially so for someone like Shirin, a sixteen-year-old Muslim girl who’s tired of being stereotyped.
Shirin is never surprised by how horrible people can be. She’s tired of the rude stares, the degrading comments—even the physical violence—she endures as a result of her race, her religion, and the hijab she wears every day. So she’s built up protective walls and refuses to let anyone close enough to hurt her. Instead, she drowns her frustrations in music and spends her afternoons break-dancing with her brother.
But then she meets Ocean James. He’s the first person in forever who really seems to want to get to know Shirin. It terrifies her—they seem to come from two irreconcilable worlds—and Shirin has had her guard up for so long that she’s not sure she’ll ever be able to let it down.
So I read the excerpt while slurping spicy noodles for lunch and right off the bat, I knew that this will be another amazing story about Muslim Americans that needs to be boosted on all social media platforms. Since this exclusive excerpt was shared on Entertainment Weekly, I’ll share the link to that article below:
Now, even though I’ve only read this excerpt and highly anticipating reading the rest of this novel, I do want to share some quotes and reflections that resonated with me. You can find these after the jump!
As you all know, I’m a huge fan of diverse reads, diverse authors, and always boosting the voices and stories of people who live their daily lives. For some people, their lives are met with a lot of prejudice and discrimination. I know because I’m one of those people.
When I read Tahereh Mafi’s excerpt, I was so happy. I was clapping my hands at passages and nodding my head. She was preaching to the choir, but the choir will always listen. I’ve been made to feel more American. I’ve had friends who changed their Korean names to be more American-friendly. We all assimilate into this culture because the cultures we come from are too foreign to the people around us. We’re asked such inane questions over and over again that it surprises me that people still ask.
I could go on forever on this, but I’ll spare you because this isn’t what this post is about. Here’s a quote that really resonated with me the moment I read it:
It didn’t matter how unaccented my English was. It didn’t matter that I told people, over and over again, that I was born here, in America, that English was my first language, that my cousins in Iran made fun of me for speaking mediocre Farsi with an American accent—it didn’t matter. Everyone assumed I was fresh off the boat from a foreign land.
She had me at “ESL.” English as a second language is a class provided to students who may be new to this country and aren’t that proficient in English. It was a class my mother was asked to take when she first moved to this country. It was a class my sister was asked to take even though she was born here.
My mother immigrated to America when she was thirteen. Even though English wasn’t her first language when she moved here, she and her family quickly adapted to the American life. My mother has a huge Farrah Fawcett haircut in her high school yearbook photo. Because she moved to America when she was still young, English as well as many American traditions and culture were assimilated into our household.
My Korean is shameful. I can’t speak formally or use honorifics because I don’t know them. The only people I’m comfortable speaking in Korean with is my family. I can understand pretty well, but I can’t read or write anything outside of my own name. Other Koreans get mad at me about it.
I’ve been asked so many times how I learned English so well. I do confess that English was my second language and Korean was my first, but I’m not completely lacking. Like any first or second generation-er living in America, you start off speaking your parents’ native language. Once you start going through the American school system, English kind of takes over and if you don’t practice other languages at home you kind of lose that language.
And in high school, I was in the English honor society. I was the editor-in-chief of my school’s Science Fiction and Fantasy literary magazine. I even went to college and studied journalism because my dream was to be a music writer in the future.
But because the way my face is shaped and how dark the color of my hair is, I’ll always be asked whether or not English is my first or second language.
This is why this book is to be good. It’s going to be good because it will share another story of what life is like for some Muslim Americans. It’s going to share what it’s like to be a kid from an immigrant family living in America. It’s going to be about being young and being lost and trying to find yourself in a world that doesn’t accept you for who you are.
I really hope you’ll read it. I really hope you do.