I sadly think that it is safe to say that whenever you see a book that features a cast of characters meant to include multiple minority groups, certain representation is going to read more generic and formulaic than others. Translation: just because you see a hijabi on the cover, do not rush out to obtain, purchase, and read the entire series. Chances are if a scarf wearing Muslim is being featured, the details will be simplistic, the rep mediocre, and the OWN voice emotion lacking. Also know, that other minority groups will have similarly been included for their surface level representation and not necessarily for any real depth. This includes the boxes to be checked for Black, Hispanic, Asian, and LGBTQ+ storylines, characters, and/or side references. This is a sweeping generalization, and inshaAllah when I am proven wrong, I will happily point those books out too. This series hopes to appeal to middle grade female readers (AR 4.0-4.6) with an emphasis on coding, but not so much on how it is done or how they learn it, but how it helps them in their other passions and dramas. I read books two and four, since the Muslim character is not introduced until book two and I wanted to see how she is developed as the series advances. Each book is told from a different girl’s perspective so it is assumed that book five, could be Leila’s, but honestly with the focus on crushes, dances, and relationships, I won’t be sticking around to find out.
BOOK 2: TEAM BFF: RACE TO THE FINISH! is told from Sophia’s perspective. She is hispanic, has lots of little sisters, loves sports and has a lot of responsibility. The original four girls reach out to Leila, a new girl from Pakistan to join their coding team and even end up naming their robot Zahira. When Soph is forced to take care of her siblings instead of go to the hackathon, she will have to learn to ask for help and lean on others when she can’t do everything herself. It also means she will have to take charge with the upcoming dance and ask Sammy out herself.
BOOK 4: SPOTLIGHT ON CODING CLUB: The school is doing a new virtual format for the talent show and that means that the coding club has to design a website, an app, and collect all the data. They don’t have much time, and with everyone’s time stretched thin with other obligations, Erin keeps volunteering to do more. Her hope is that if she is so busy she can’t think, her anxiety won’t flare up and she won’t stress too much about her dad who is deployed on a secret mission. When their teacher announces that she is leaving, the group seems to be falling apart as well, and something will have to give.
WHY I LIKE IT:
The first two books are written by one author, and then three is written by someone else, as is book four. The writing quality of book four is much better, and the insight in to mental illness, divorced parents, a parent actively deployed, and being stretched too thin, will resonate a lot stronger with readers, than the more whiney presentation of the second book. Each book seems to also present with a new crush storyline: in the second book it is Sophia recognizing changing feelings for a friend, and in book four it is a lesbian crush that has the side characters angsty. I wish more about the girls as individuals was stressed rather than having them all be defined by their hundreds of hobbies and extracurriculars. I was exhausted just imagining all the places they have to be in a week and the frantic pace they must keep to ensure they get there. I get that the demographic is probably giggly over crushes, but honestly they seem so forced and unnecessary in books that already have a lot of moving parts.
Lying, crushes (gay and straight), anxiety triggers, stress.
TOOLS FOR LEADING THE DISCUSSION:
I don’t know that I would even shelve these in an Islamic School, the idea is good, the execution not so much.