Samira Surfs by Rukhsanna Guidroz, illustrations by Fahmida Azim. Kokila, an imprint of Penguin Random House, 2021. 9781984816191
Rating: 1-5 (5 is an excellent or a Starred review) 4
Genre: Realistic fiction
What did you like about the book? Samira lives with her family outside a refugee camp in Bangladesh, having fled Burma after violence threatened her Rohingya family. But tragedy followed them, as her beloved grandparents drowned on the boat ride over. Samira and her brother Khaled both have jobs to help their family, but Samira finds other things she would rather do. Khaled is teaching her to read. And then there’s the lure of the water. Her mother is deathly afraid of anything having to do with the water, as that’s where her parents died. But Samira is drawn to surfing, and she sees other girls like her on the water and feels that it offers her an escape from the hand to mouth existence of her fractured family. This novel in verse is an immersive experience in the life of a refugee, in a violent conflict that many kids in the U.S. are likely unaware of.
The poetic first-person narration, in widely spaced lines, is a very effective look at Samira’s life as a refugee: how she tries to balance love and obedience to her family with the secrets about reading and surfing that feel so important to her. And there’s the fact that there is no school for this girl who is drawn to reading, and that she must spend her days selling eggs in order to help her family survive. Occasional black and white drawings nicely flesh out the unfamiliar landscape.
Readers will learn about living as a refugee, and identify with a child trying to find her place. Wonderful friendships with other girls, refugees and native Bangladeshis, round out this engrossing story.
Anything you didn’t like about it? No
To whom would you recommend this book? As a novel in verse, the book can have wide appeal to both middle grade and hi/lo readers, especially those who enjoy novels set in Southeast Asia, or realistic fiction depicting political/religious strife. And how many novels combine migration and surfing?!
Who should buy this book? Elementary and middle school and public libraries
Where would you shelve it ? Fiction
Should we (librarians/readers) put this on the top of our “to read” piles? Yes
Reviewer’s Name, Library (or school), City and State: Stephanie Tournas, Robbins Library, Arlington, MA
Date of review: October 19, 2021