Wednesday, June 21, 2023

Call Me Adnan

Faruqi, Reem. Call Me Adnan 
June 13, 2023 by HarperCollins US
E ARC provided by Edelweiss Plus

In this novel in verse, we meet Adnan, who lives with his mother and father in Atlanta, Georgia. He has an older sister, Aaliyah, and a two year old brother Riz. His mother is expecting. He has some quirks-- he will only eat pasta, popcorn, pizza, Pringles, pretzels, and parathas; he is colorblind; and he excels at table tennis. In addition to spending time at the masjid, he has a best friend, Sufian who likes to cook. School can be a challenge. His teacher Ms. Morgan doesn't really understand him and mispronounces his name, but the school custodian Ms. Darlene is a helpful ally. After much anxiety, Adnan wins the local level of table tennis and is set to play in the finals in Florida. Since it is Eid time, the whole family meet up for the tournament and celebration. They have a great time until a tragedy occurs and Riz drowns in the pool. The family is devastated, and in accordance with Muslim tradition, holds the funeral locally. When they return home, so many people drop by that they have a service at their place of worship. People say and do all of the things they do when people die; some helpful, others decidedly not. The whole family suffers, and try to get through the days. Sufian is understanding and helpful, bringing his special eggs over for Adnan every morning. When the new baby arrives, it is both happy and sad. There are constant reminders of Riz, but joy to be taken in Nusaybah as well. As the baby gets older, Adnan's mother becomes involved in water safety promotions, hoping to save other children from Riz's fate. Will Adnan be able to come to terms with the sad changes in his family. 
Strengths: On the bright side, no one in the family becomes incapacitated with grief as they usually do in middle grade novels. I enjoyed the first part of the story, and found the information about color blindness interesting; the friend with whom I coached cross country was color blind, and could never see the red box lines on the green grass at meets! The family's strong community was fantastic to read about, and the details about services and religious classes were interesting. Adnan has a lot of realistic middle grade emotions; he's worried about the tournament, slightly annoyed by Riz from time to time, and feels guilty because it was his job to look out for his brother. There are some good descriptions of how grief can sneak up at the weirdest of times; doing laundry, getting donuts, seeing airplanes flying. 
Weaknesses: A book about a boy who plays table tennis would have been great, but about half of this book is more involved with the grief after Riz's death. 
What I really think: This is a great choice for readers who want more books like Stoddard's Right as Rain, O'Connor's Halfway to Harmony, or Warga's The Shape of Thunder

Frequent readers know that I'm never a fan of books that delve this deeply into grief. I would argue with one line in the book "It's a lie when they say it gets easier with time... it gets harder." A friend told me that it would take three years to really get over a loss, and it took five, but having that number in my head really helped. I've definitely  moved on. After ten years, it's certainly a lot easier. Believing that it will get easier absolutely helps. I am possibly the only proponent of "moving on", although back in the day this was how most people treated death. 

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