I really thought this book was a middle school book when I picked it up: the cover illustration, the length (265 pages), the larger font and generous spacing, but then I started reading it and the first two chapters alone have cursing, underage drinking, mention of sex and making out, straight and lesbian couples, and bullying. The main character’s voice was enjoyable enough and the writing smooth, so I kept reading, but ultimately, I don’t know that high schoolers will find the climax that griping, and it definitely isn’t for middle schoolers, so I’m not sure who the target audience is. The character never identifies as Muslim, nor does he correct or clarify to the many people around him that assume he is Muslim. His deceased father was Arab Christian and his mother, Iranian Muslim that doesn’t “speak to God much since (his) dad died,” yet he is the victim of Islamaphobia and bullied as being a terrorist. Pork is put in his locker, a doctored image of him dressed as an extremist is emailed out to the entire school, but he never says I am Muslim or I am not Muslim. Perhaps when dealing with ridiculous bullies it doesn’t matter, but even commenting on that would, for me, have given the book more purpose. The book was a quick easy read, and I enjoyed the basketball aspects and a few of the characters, but the constant drinking, predictability, and lack of intensity renders the book rather forgettable. I’m only reviewing it so that if other’s see it and assume it is a middle school sports book that they will be aware that it is for older readers, has a decent amount of gay and straight non graphic romance, a lot of alcohol use, and crude talk.
Bijan is on loan to the Varsity basketball team from JV and when the star player gets in foul trouble, he is put in. Bijan is a decent player, and when his intensity brings the team within range of a win and his winning shot seals the victory, Bijan is no longer just another face in the crowd at his private school, he is getting a lot of attention. Most of the attention is initially appreciated, parties, a chance to talk to his crush Elle, leniency in turning in assignments, but things quickly change when a manipulated image is sent out to the entire school community- students, teachers, faculty, alumni, board- showing Bijan as a terrorist. Was he targeted because of his brown skin, his instant popularity, his volunteering with a committee to change the school mascot from the Gunners to something less violent? The school says they will try and find the culprit, but it doesn’t look hopeful and Bijan just wants it to all go away.
Bijan’s new stardom has him hanging out with the Varsity team after games and suddenly interfering with their social life. Bijan gets in a fight with a teammate, breaks up a fight between a teammate and his girlfriend, and finds himself being teased for being Muslim and brown. The school is predominately white and Bijan stands out. He notes who says his name, and who conveniently avoids it. Physical altercations elevate whenever alcohol is present, which is often, but no clear motive is established. The students’ parents are involved in trying to force the school to be more proactive against bullying and the board, staff and students squabble over the mascot. When Drew’s girlfriend breaks up for him in favor of a girl, another email is sent out shaming the girls’ relationship. Bijan and friends figure out who is responsible and everyone concludes that the two emails were sent by the same person, but Bijan has his doubts.
The school basketball team makes it into the New England tournament and with the team on the road, the alcohol and physical assaults on and off the court escalate. When the opposing team’s fans dress up in turbans and beards and chant USA, Bijan has had enough and refuses to play. He confronts his coach about never saying his name, and when they return to school the culprit of the email and of the pork in the locker is identified. Bijan gives a speech about not being a terrorist while internally thinking of parts of the Quran and stats that he could be sharing, but isn’t. Spoiler: he also gets the girl.
WHY I LIKE IT:
I like that it isn’t a nerd to hero story that it so easily could have been. Bijan is smart and clever and grounded. He is a solid basketball player and has his flaws as well as his strengths. It doesn’t seem that popularity has changed him, people are just now noticing him. I enjoyed his wit and humor and friendship with Sean. The commentary in Bijan’s head, voiced by NBA commentators, reflects what he feels and what he thinks, it is critical and entertaining and gives a great vehicle into conveying his thoughts.
I felt a fair amount of the plot was predictable and obvious. It was clear pretty quickly that Erin and Stephanie were in to each other, that Noah was jealous and capable of sabotage. Drew had his own financial concerns, but seemed to obviously be the red herring to Jessica’s privilege. Even the email and the taunting seemed fairly tame, Bijan himself didn’t seem that bothered by the email. Not saying it is ok, but in a book where the characters are drinking and filling lockers with meat, the severity wasn’t that gravitating. And about the meat, I think it warranted more discussion. Whether the pork offended him on a religious level or not, meat or food or anything of that magnitude stuffed into a gym locker is worthy of freaking out over.
Bijan never says he is Muslim, he does remark that he doesn’t read Arabic or Farsi. He doesn’t drink at the first few parties because he is terrified his mom will freak out. He drinks at a later party. At one party someone remarks that “Allah won’t mind,” and he doesn’t really respond. His mom, it is hinted at, has been hung over before and may have drunk in high school and consumes wine at her book club. When Bijan and Elle are figuring things out between them, she wonders if it is ok because of…and it kind of trails off to imply perhaps his religion, to which there really isn’t a response.
Drinking alcohol, language, relationships (straight and lesbian), crude jokes and references. There is kissing between a boy and a girl and two girls that is overheard by the main character. Sex and making out are referenced but not detailed.
TOOLS FOR LEADING THE DISCUSSION:
I wouldn’t do this for a middle school book club or suggest it for the high schoolers.