Seventeen-year-old Khadija Shaami and her Muslim family moved several years ago from Syria to Detroit, Mich. They continued to visit their homeland each summer until 2011 when the Syrian people revolted against the dictator Basher Al-Assad. Khadija has taken up boxing in order to protect herself from anti-Muslim sentiments–the first girl in the club to engage in the sport while wearing a hijab–and to put distance between herself and her mother’s control over her life. Khadija sees herself as “a half-baked Syrian girl who was raised in America,” and she is aware that “no matter how much I can try to please Mama, she will always want me to be more proper Syrian like her.”
Now, in 2018, Khadija’s mother invites two Syrian refugees, 17-year-old Leene Taher and her mother, to stay with them until they can find a place to live. Khadija is incensed. She knows that Leene, “the next new Syrian girl,” is everything that Khadija’s mother wants her to be–dutiful, compliant and domestic, everything she herself abhors.
As Khadija and Leene interact daily, they’re confronted with the caricatures they’ve drawn of each other and of the ways the Syrian civil war has and continues to impact them. When they share with each other the guilt that cripples them–albeit for different reasons–they find refuge in a common cause and embark on a surprising, life-altering journey.
Author Ream Shukairy is a Syrian American who was raised in the United States and spends her summers in Syria. In her debut young adult novel–raw, painful, multi-layered and hopeful–Shukairy refuses to simplify and depersonalize the definition of a refugee to one size fits all. Employing Khadija’s voice, Shukairy writes, “A refugee’s existence is too complicated to be encompassed by one of Merriam-Webster’s definitions. Like Leene would say, context is everything.” Contains some vulgar language. (Little, Brown Books for Young Readers)