MMGM and #IMWAYR: Huda F Are You? by Huda Fahmy
I hope everyone is doing well! I spent the last couple of days reading The Magic Fish for the third time, and it just gets better and better every time I come back to it—I don't know if this read-through will allow me to extract every last drop of depth and meaning from it, but that just means I'll have plenty of other chances to further understand the book later in life.
Also, as I post this review, I am noticing that Goodreads has redesigned their book pages, and I am screaming a silent "huzzah!"—they don't seem horrendously confusing, and they look so much less ancient and more organized than they used to.
And one more thing: the application to judge for the Cybils Awards opens August 17! I had an amazing experience as a Round 2 Judge for Elementary and Middle Grade Nonfiction last year, and I plan to reapply as a judge this year. You can learn more about judging opportunities on this page—the group is always looking for a diverse group of individuals to serve as panelists and judges, so your perspective is always welcome!
Update on Sunday: And one more thing after that—I've revamped the layout of my blog AGAIN, because I have no self-control and I keep getting irritated with how things are set up. I hope the new layout works for you! I'm excited to have a new feature on the sidebar called Books in Harmony, where I will try to highlight a different set of books with something in common each week.
Now for today's review: I'm excited to be discussing a delightful graphic novel I've heard so much praise for: Huda F Are You? by Huda Fahmy! (Which might be the best title for a book ever.)
I'm calling this book MG because, although it's technically set in high school, the writing style definitely feels more MG to me, and there's nothing remotely inappropriate in the story.
|Add it on Goodreads or preview the illustrations!|
Let's start off with the publisher's description of this book:
From the creator of Yes, I'm Hot In This, this cheeky, hilarious, and honest graphic novel asks the question everyone has to figure out for themselves: Who are you?
Huda and her family just moved to Dearborn, Michigan, a small town with a big Muslim population. In her old town, Huda knew exactly who she was: She was the hijabi girl. But in Dearborn, everyone is the hijabi girl.
Huda is lost in a sea of hijabis, and she can't rely on her hijab to define her anymore. She has to define herself. So she tries on a bunch of cliques, but she isn't a hijabi fashionista or a hijabi athlete or a hijabi gamer. She's not the one who knows everything about her religion or the one all the guys like. She's miscellaneous, which makes her feel like no one at all. Until she realizes that it'll take finding out who she isn't to figure out who she is.
I've seen this book recommended by Beth Mitcham at Library Chicken, Beth Shaum at A Foodie Bibliophile in Wanderlust, Crystal Brunelle at Reading Through Life, and Kellee Moye at Unleashing Readers, yet it lingered around on my shelves for quite a while—until now! While I didn't think this book was a perfect read, it is still a humorous and meaningful story that fills a major void in representation—there are virtually no graphic novels by Muslim authors or illustrators, so I am thrilled to see this story making it's way into readers' hands.
This fictionalized memoir has quite a few things going for it, one of which is humor. I think it's easier to tackle important topics with a serious attitude than with a humorous attitude, which is why so few books seem to take the latter route—and that's bad news for readers who want to actually have fun while reading! (Seriously, what a thought.) So Huda F Are You? is a unique read, because this book is pretty solidly hilarious from the title onward! I think the opening is a pretty good example—the book begins with Huda's mom sitting in a dark room, turning on a lamp like an interrogator, holding up Huda's C- report card, and asking, "Where are the drugs, Huda?" This book isn't afraid to make fun of its characters (Huda, her mom, her friends, and more), or to pack in plenty of visual gags (like the visualizations of Huda's inner voices that sit on her shoulder and make slightly-uncalled for comments). I'm not much for laughing out loud, but this book garnered some silent laughter a few times!
But packed into the silliness of this story is some great insight into the life of a high schooler like Huda. It might seem like a lot of books tackle the kinds of identity issues that this book does, but what makes this book stand out (to me, at least) is that it shows how you can grapple with poor self-esteem and self-image without an obvious cause (like bullying, or a cruel parent). Huda has obviously dealt with cruelty in the form of microaggressions for a long time (and I'll discuss that more in a moment), but as much of an impact that presumably had on her, the book doesn't portray Huda's insecurities as stemming solely from those experiences—which I think makes this book relatable to the many, many readers (myself included) who grapple with insecurity, negative self-talk, and more for all kinds of different reasons, or none at all!
Huda doesn't fit neatly into the kinds of cliques and boxes other students fit into at her school, but while she struggles under the weight of not having herself figured out, we can see how she hardly lacks a personality—she just doesn't have (or hasn't found) an interest that she can sum herself up with in a quick sentence. It takes time to fully develop your personality, and it takes even longer to actually see your own personality for what it truly is—I don't know if the Huda of the story ever sees her own ability to narrate an engaging story with humor and self-insight, but we do, and we have a sense all along that Huda is far more complex and rich than she gives herself credit for. Under the weight of her insecurities, Huda makes a couple pretty solid mistakes (and didn't we all at her age?), but she eventually finds the courage to fix them, and to own her self-esteem issues and try to resolve them.
One more thing I really appreciate about this story is its exploration of Muslim identity. Like I said above, Muslims are underrepresented in kidlit, especially in graphic novels, so it's wonderful to see books like this bringing a nuanced and realistic portrayal of Muslim kids like Huda to the table. We see Huda's own beliefs about Islam as she gets older and considers her religion more. We learn about her parents' experiences as Muslim immigrants to the U.S. from Egypt. (Side note: Huda's mom is such a good character! She loves her kids deeply but has expectations of them, and she has a great sense of humor too—she is the one making the jokes, rather than being the target of them.) And we also see Huda, her family, and other Muslims' heartbreaking experience with microaggressions (and macroaggressions), ranging from horribly offensive comments to racial profiling. The humor of the story takes the edge off of these experiences, but it's still appalling to see these people facing such vitriol and scorn on a daily basis. But it's also important to see, both because it will hopefully speak to some people who might need to change their own attitudes and behavior, and because it shows a meaningful depiction of characters who shouldn't have to speak up for themselves but do so anyway, taking control of their lives in a world trying to keep them down.
As I mentioned above, I don't think this story is a perfect one, despite its many merits. First off, it's an unusually short read, at just 185 pages with large panels and text—I read it in about an hour and found myself wanting a little bit more. (Although, to be fair—there will be a little bit more—a sequel called Huda F Cares? is on the way!) I also felt like the ending was a smidge rushed—I wished for some more explicit resolution to a couple of plot lines, although in a fictionalized memoir, it's not always possible to include resolution if it didn't actually happen in real life! But I will end on a positive note with the art—this book has a dynamic, energetic art style that will hold readers' attention quite well.
Despite its flaws, Huda F Are You? is a unique and exciting read! Few books tackle experiences of insecurity and discrimination with as much humor, heart, and energy as this one, and I look forward to the young readers who will get caught up in this fast-paced story and find themselves with a better understanding of people who look like them, people who don't look like them...or even themselves.
My rating is: Pretty good!
My rating for the graphic novel-averse is: 3!