Samira Surfs by Rukhsana Guidroz
📚 BOOK REVIEW 📚
Title: Samira Surfs
Author: Rukhsana Guidroz
Illustrator: Fahmida Azem
Publisher: Kokila @penguinkids
Islamic Content: Muslim characters and setting, Islam is mentioned but not the focal point, Ramadan
Concerns: Now that I'm older, I'm not supposed to swim,
according to my faith.", death is discussed
Samira and her family are illegal Rohingya refugees in Bangladesh that are struggling to make a living. They live outside the gated refugee camp and are trying their hardest to remain under the radar. When she befriends local girls who are surfers, she discovers a brand new love for the sport. Her brother secretly teaches her English and how to surf. When a local surfing competition is announced, Samira can't think about anything else other than being a part of it.
It is wonderful to see that Rohingya stories are finally starting to come to light in children's lit. Personally, this book served as an introduction of the main cause that has displaced many Rohingya Muslim from their homes in Burma. The writing style didn't particularly 'WOW' me nor did it emotionally bind me to the characters or the story.
When stories with Muslim characters are written mainstream, for good reason, I am always cautious about the way that Islam is presented. Merely making a broad statement like Islam does not allow girls to swim, without nuanced context, it really is frustrating. Because here I am, a book reviewer, itching to give context to 1 - how false that statement is because it is smearing Islam with something that it doesn't claim 2 - do I really need to get into details of what the conditions of hijab are and what that means for public spaces? 3 - What about cultural influences and societal norms in different regions of the world even if they are majority Muslim. The hijab itself isn't discussed, but Samira is illustrated with is on and off in public spaces.
While Samira's father is excused from fasting due to his poor health, he decides that no one will be fasting either during the month of Ramadan. As a Muslim parent, I find that to be in poor taste since Ramadan is a pillar of Islam. Also, I didn't really like how the book ended, it just felt very unnatural and unrealistic but that's all I will say because I don't want to spoil it for others who want to read it.
This is nothing new but Muslim stories really need to be told authentically. I don't mind that I read about Muslim characters that err, my frustration surfaces when Islam is misrepresented and, in passing, it is given misplaced blame for people's individual actions, decisions or lifestyles.