Wednesday, October 05, 2022

Bhai for Now

Siddiqui, Maleeha. Bhai for Now
October 4th 2022 by Scholastic Press
E ARC provided by Edelweiss Plus

Shareer Atique lives with his father, a doctor, and his grandfather, whom he calls Dada. His father changes jobs a lot, so the men live in nondescript apartments, and Shareer is not thrilled to have to start a new school in northern Virginia. He never knew his mother, since his parents divorced when he was very young, and his father refuses to talk about her. Ashar Malik is very interested in playing hockey, and is studying to take an entrance exam to a private high school with a really good hockey team. Money is tight, so he hopes he can get a scholarship. He and his mother, a high school math teacher, have recently gotten their own town house after years of living with his uncle's family. His cousin, Zohra, is a bit irritated with him because she misses having him nearby. His mother refuses to talk about his father. When Shareer starts at his new school, he is immediately mistaken for Ashar, and when the two meet, they are shocked to see how identical they are. After some discussion, they realize that they are twins, and try to figure out the best way to tell their families. Because they are 8th grade boys, they decide the best plan of action is to pretend to be the other person, and spend time with their counterpart's family that way. Ashar enjoys going on walks with his grandfather, and goes on a lot of errands and outings with his father, and Shareer goes to a new local mosque with his mother and helps get it ready for opening. Zohra realizes early on what the two are up to, and helps out when they are almost discovered. Shareer has some difficult hockey practices, and Ashar has to get to know a lot of extended family, but they are glad to be together after so many years. When Shareer's father decides to apply for another job far away, the boys decide they must do something. Will they be able to bring their mother and father together long enough to insure that they can stay together even if their parents are apart?
Strengths: Don't all middle school students secretly wish they had a twin? I know I did. And the twins I knew in school definitely switched places from time to time! Shareer and Ashar are similar enough to get along, but their lives have been very different. This makes for a fun and engaging plot that scaffolds a humorous story while also delivering helpful lessons about family and life choices. Middle grade readers also like to investigate personal identity, so it's fun to see Saheer embrace interior design, and to see Ashar struggle with how important hockey is to him. Aside from the well paced plot, I enjoyed the well developed characters. Zohra was an essential helper when the boys traded places, Dada was wiser than the boys expected, and even the mother and father were interestingly drawn. It was painful to read about the parents fighting when they meet up again, but also unfortunately realistic. This is a great book to hand to readers who enjoyed Pancholy's The Best At It, Burke's An Occasionally Happy Family, and Burt's The Right Hook of Devin Velma
Weaknesses: As an adult, I found it almost impossible to believe that both parents managed to successfully keep the boys in the dark, especially since there were other relatives around, but young readers will have no trouble believing this. I was also bemused by the depiction of the 64 year old grandfather as old and somewhat frail. 64 is pretty young to have a middle school aged grandchild, and most people don't start to slow down until at least their 70s. I was surprised that Dada didn't still have a job! (Again, young readers are not going to see this.)
What I really think: Definitely purchasing, since this was an amusing realistic book with some great cultural connections to Pakistani Muslim family life. Readers who enjoyed Khan's Zayd Saleem when they were younger will love this one, especially with the little bit of hockey playing. 

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