At a time when we are all asking questions about identity, grief, and how to stand up for what is right, this book by the author of A Thousand Questions will hit home with young readers who love Hena Khan and Varian Johnson—or anyone struggling to understand recent U.S. history and how it still affects us today.
Yusuf Azeem has spent all his life in the small town of Frey, Texas—and nearly that long waiting for the chance to participate in the regional robotics competition, which he just knows he can win.
Only, this year is going to be more difficult than he thought. Because this year is the twentieth anniversary of the 9/11 terrorist attacks, an anniversary that has everyone in his Muslim community on edge.
With “Never Forget” banners everywhere and a hostile group of townspeople protesting the new mosque, Yusuf realizes that the country’s anger from two decades ago hasn’t gone away. Can he hold onto his joy—and his friendships—in the face of heartache and prejudice?
Quiet, bespectacled, robot-loving Pakistani American Yusuf Azeem, who is almost 12, is excited to start the sixth grade until a series of ominous notes appears in his locker. Yusuf's family is one of 11 Muslim families in the small town of Frey, Tex., and the Islamophobia, xenophobia, and racism the family has faced have only intensified in the weeks leading up to the 20th anniversary of 9/11. Ethan Grant is Yusuf's nemesis: he's a vicious bully and the son of a white nationalist who opposes the construction of a town mosque. Yusuf tries to keep his head down, but when Ethan accuses him of carrying a bomb in his backpack actually a micro:bit "virtual cat" and Yusuf suffers repercussions, he gathers his friends to take on Ethan and his hateful father. Faruqi (A Thousand Questions) effectively intersperses Yusuf's narrative with his maternal uncle's journal entries from 2001; these epistolary interludes, written when Yusuf's uncle was 12, are particularly powerful, capturing the raw emotions of American Muslims at the time and serving to reinforce the importance of learning unwhitewashed histories in this timely, hopeful middle grade novel. Ages 8 12. Agent: Kari Sutherland, Bradford Literary.