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Middle Grade Review: Samira Surfs by Rukhsanna Guidroz

Title: Samira Surfs

Author: Rukhsanna Guidroz (Illustrations by Fahmida Azim)

Year Published: 2021

Category: Middle Grade fiction (historical fiction, verse)
Pages: 416
Rating: 4.5 out of 5

Location (my 2021 Google Reading map)Burma, Bangladesh

Summary (from Amazon): Samira thinks of her life as before and after: before the burning and violence in her village in Burma, when she and her best friend would play in the fields, and after, when her family was forced to flee. There's before the uncertain journey to Bangladesh by river, and after, when the river swallowed her nana and nani whole. And now, months after rebuilding a life in Bangladesh with her mama, baba, and brother, there's before Samira saw the Bengali surfer girls of Cox's Bazar, and after, when she decides she'll become one.

Samira Surfs, written by Rukhsanna Guidroz with illustrations by Fahmida Azim, is a tender novel in verse about a young Rohingya girl's journey from isolation and persecution to sisterhood, and from fear to power.

Review: I was so excited when I heard about this book. A Rohingya girl story? And it's empowering rather than just showing her as a victim? Yes please!

I'm going to begin this review with the things that I worry about with this book:
  • It's long for middle grade (over 400 pages) even though it's written in verse
  • There are lots of references to clothing, food, etc that students in my town won't be familiar with and there is no glossary. Maybe they won't care and the details of it don't matter.
That's it. Everything else is wonderful. Middle grade students will enjoy reading about Samira's experiences as an immigrant, someone who is having trouble fitting in, the struggles and trials and elation of making friends, worrying about family and friends left behind, overcoming fears and familial expectations, and finally, succeeding at something they've wanted to do so badly.

Thinking about my concerns above, I realize that the illustrations will help younger readers understand some of the concepts.

The author's portrayal of creating friends through a shared activity, in this case, surfing, is good and natural. I also liked the relationship between Samaria and her brother who is nurturing, helpful, and supportive. Her parents are done well, too, showing that we can be worried or fearful for our children, but still supportive.

I think this story will show students a group of people they don't know about, but in a way that they can relate.

Challenges for which this counts: 
  • Big Book Summer Challenge
  • Children's historical fiction--Rohingya in Burma
  • Diversity--Rohingya
  • Historical fiction--Rohingya in Burma
  • Literary Escapes--Burma, Bangladesh

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