Wednesday, June 16, 2021

Samira Surfs

Guidroz, Rukhsana. Samira Surfs
June 8th 2021 by Kokila (first published 2021)
E ARC provided by Edelweiss Plus

In 2012, Samira and her family are members of the Rohingya people. Because of the oppressive government in Myanmar (or Burma, as her family prefers to call it) that denies citizenship to Rohingya, Samira's family undertook a treacherous journey at a great personal and emotional cost to come to Bangladesh. Her father now works on a shrimp boat, her brother at a hotel, and Samira sells hard boiled eggs on the beach. Samira misses her friends back home, as well as her grandparents, and would really like to go to school. Her father tells her that even if they did have the money, they would send her brother, because "only boys can change a family's fate". The family did not find a place in the local resettlement camp, so are considered unregistered, and experience a lot of discrimination from local people who feel that immigrants are taking jobs and opportunities away from native Bangladeshis. While on the beach, Samira meets other girls who become her friends. Aisha also is a refugee, sells jewelry on the beach. and lives with just her grandfather. She is very quiet about her own story. Nadia's brother Tariq is friends with Samira's brother Khaled. Rubi's mother is a seamstress, and Maya sells chips. Samira is enthralled when her brother and Tariq are surfing, but she is afraid of the water because of her family's journey. Khaled offers to teach her to swim, and also teaches her some English that he is picking up at the hotel. Eventually, Samira gets brave enough to try surfing, although it is a lot of work to become good at it. When a local contest with a cash prize is announced, Samira wants to enter, even though her family doesn't want her swimming because of their faith. Sure she is going to help her family in this way, Samira persists, but when she is not allowed to enter the contest, will her persistence pay off?
Strengths: Aside from Perkins' Tiger Boy, I can't think of any other middle grade books set in Bangladesh, and certainly haven't read any with Rohingya characters! It's great to see this representation, and Samira's interactions with her family and friends will resonate with middle grade readers. I liked the details about how the family lived, especially things like going to a local shop to watch television news or borrowing a cell phone in order to call relatives. There aren't many books about surfing, either, so this has all kids of new and interesting topics in it! The illustrations are helpful in showing where Samira lives, and what she and her friends wear. I love giving my students books that show what the lives of children their age are like in other countries, and this was an interesting and informative title. 
Weaknesses: Most of the novels in verse that I have read lately don't strike me as particularly poetic when I read the pages out loud. The same is true of this book. That's fine, but since my students shy away from novels in verse despite my efforts to promote them, I would have preferred a prose format with more context clues for some of the terms and situations with which my readers might be unfamiliar. 
What I really think: Definitely purchasing this, and would love to see more books with Rohingya characters, but wish that there were more details about Samira's every day life so that my students would have a better understanding of Samira's life. The notes at the end were very helpful.

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