Over the years I’ve read to a lot of kids, with a lot of kids, discussed books in classrooms, and in book clubs, so when reviewing I often share what kids think or what I imagine kids will think, and I usually acknowledge when I’m being overly critical as a reviewer, but this book I will tell you, I did not read through the intended middle grade lens, I read it as a 42 year old seasoned reader. I know this because I cried during the entire second half, and the book is not sad. It is fast paced, joyful and adventure filled. I cried at the ownership of identity, the pureness of friendship, the acceptance of the flaws and strengths of those closest to us, the love of family and that this book is written by four incredible Muslim women authors for Muslim kids to be seen and for non Muslims to see Muslim kids in action in a fantastic, non preachy, authentic, powerful engaging story. In short I loved it. I love that the voices are different, but polished and seamless in conveying a fictional story with universal themes through a variety of Muslim characters without talking down or over explaining anything. From the maps to the crossover character Hanna from S.K. Ali books, the poetry from they young lyricist to the representation and discussions of Muslims not being a monolith, and the sprinkling of a Hadith or Quranic ayat here and there (I wish there was more), the book tugged at my heart strings. For kids third grade and up, some of those themes might resonate, or it might just be a book about a lost cat in an airport and a hodgepodge group of strangers, turning friends, stranded in an airport searching for her while dodging security and exasperated parents.
The end of the MONA (Muslims of North America) Conference has lots of families at the fictional Zora Neale Hurston heading home. Tired parents and restless kids lead Feek’s little sister Ruqi to go missing and Feek to blame. As he searches for his little sister he meets Hanna, a girl looking for a lost cat, not her lost cat, just one she has heard about from her animal activist group that is missing at the airport. As they search for Ruqi, Sami gets dragged along even though he’d rather be mentally keeping his anxiety in check as he prepares for the Karate competition he is heading to. Luckily Nora, Congresswoman Najjar’s daughter, finds Ruqi and the five strangers are brought together. When all flights are grounded because of weather, the group goes in search of the missing cat, Snickerdoodle, finding leads, security, secret corridors, self confidence, friendship, and skills along the way.
WHY I LIKE IT:
I knew the book would be good with the authors’ names on the cover and their ability to tell a good story, but I was still blown away by how real the characters were fleshed out and their “problems” articulated. The emotional connection to each character facing their insecurities and supporting one another’s’ vulnerabilities was reflective and insightful. I love the diverse inclusion of showing Muslims that don’t speak Arabic or don’t know if they are Muslim enough, of Black Muslims and Black culture, of being an only children and struggling with siblings, understanding parental expectation and finding your voice to speak up to those you love. The surface story is paced well and entertaining and sufficient, but the details and the story beneath the surface, really is powerful.
Again with the reviewer lens- I did wish in the middle there was a tiny bit more inclusion of a Bismillah when following a lead or an AstugfirAllah when breaking a rule or a quick prayer when running from authorities, the beginning and end was Islamically rooted, but as an Islamic School Librarian, I must admit I’d like a few more mentions during the “adventure” parts.
The kids are dishonest, they break rules (possibly laws), they lie, and do some damage, they sneak and kind of talk back to their parents, nothing is normalized or accepted though and they are called to account. There is a birthday that is celebrated with everyone singing, and possible triggers of talking about a deceased parent. The kids are 12/13 and younger, and brought together by circumstance, but by the end the girls and boys have developed close friendships.
TOOLS FOR LEADING THE DISCUSSION:
Even though the book is meant for middle grades, I think younger middle school readers would enjoy the book and find plenty to discuss as they see themselves and others in the characters, imagine what they would do in such a situation, and get swept up in the ride.