February 06, 2018

Sadia

Written by Colleen Nelson
Dundurn
978-1-45974-029-7
240 pp.
Ages 12+
February 2018
As I passed the classroom door, I caught sight of myself in the small pane of glass.  Was it the hijab that Mariam was running away from?  Seeing me must remind her of who she really was, who she'd always be.  I wished she'd realize that taking off her hijab wasn't going to change that. (pg. 82)
For Sadia's friend Mariam, de-jabbing i.e., removal of her hijab when at school and changing into more revealing clothes improper for a Muslim girl are the means to fit in and become recognized by athletic classmate Josh.  While Sadia would never contemplate doing the same, she tries to understand her friend's need to shed her headscarf and appreciate her perspective on being a Muslim girl in a Winnipeg high school.  And perspective is everything she and her classmates realize after their teacher–and also basketball coach–Mr. Letner gives them an assignment based on the premise of "If you give a kid a camera."  While Sadia and her classmates begin to take photos of their lives, they reveal much about what they experience at home and at school including family challenges, hidden passions and friendships lost and found.

While she undertakes her project, which evolves to include a passion project to help newly-arrived refugees, Sadia grapples with Mariam's de-jabbing and drive to fit in which becomes more complicated after Sadia is chosen for the school's All City Pre-Season Co-ed Basketball Team on which Josh plays.  Sadia is thrilled to be playing the game that her brother taught her and accepts the accommodations she must make to play–changing in private, covering up far more than her teammates, and wearing her hijab–but being on the team causes more friction with Mariam, especially after Josh's attentions are directed towards Sadia.  It all comes to a climax at the tournament when Sadia's hijab becomes a mobilizing force for family, friends, teammates and strangers.

Sadia addresses Sadia's honest acceptance of her Muslim culture but also how she finds the means to meld it with her love for basketball, rather than abandon one passion for another.  Sadia's self-acceptance is mature and extraordinary and she would be an impressive role model for Muslim girls trying to find their own way.  Without being deceptive or disingenuous, Sadia helps new Muslim girl Amira prepare for her new life in Canada and show Mariam that it is possible to be a practising Muslim and have fun.  Just like the photography assignment Mr. Letner gives his class, it is all about point of view.

Author Colleen Nelson continues to ramp up her writing, developing characters with whom all readers can identify.  From those dealing with bullying, guilt and grief (The Fall, 2013), or abandonment and discrimination (250 Hours, 2015), or with sexual abuse and drug addiction (Finding Hope, 2016) and poverty and violence (Blood Brothers, 2017), Colleen Nelson pens real characters whose decisions propel them into life-changing situations.  For the first time, Colleen Nelson has given Muslim girls a role model, a girl who recognizes that she has been accorded much attention and discrimination because of how others perceive her hijab, often incorrectly, but who appreciates what being a Muslim means and accepts those cultural traditions as the basis for whom she is.  Sadia does not struggle with wearing the hijab, as does her friend Mariam, but when thrust into the limelight where wearing the hijab might prevent her from playing basketball, she considers with great thought and insight what it means to continue wearing it.  Still she stays true to herself, empowered, not restricted, by her hijab or being Muslim.  For her, de-jabbing would be negating her true self, just as not playing basketball would.  In Sadia, being yourself is better than having it all and being Muslim is in itself empowering.

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Check back tomorrow for Colleen Nelson's guest blog post titled "5 Things You Didn't Know about Sadia" and upcoming blog tour stops at Lost in a Great Book, MG Book Village and Dundurn Press.


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