Bhai For Now by Maleeha Siddiqui. Scholastic Press, 2022. 9781338702095
Rating: 1-5 (5 is an excellent or a Starred review) 4
Format: ARC (publication date 10/4/22)
Genre: Realistic fiction
What did you like about the book? Eighth grader Shaheer Atique has always lived with his father and grandfather. His dad, an ER doctor, changes jobs and moves their small family around a lot. Shaheer feels like he’s never had a real home, and is starting eighth grade in yet another new school. When he arrives, several people seem to think he’s someone else – they keep calling him Ashar and asking what’s up with his hairstyle. Shaheer soon discovers that he has an identical twin, and fate has brought them together at the same school. Ashar was raised by his mother, a high school teacher; they have recently moved out of the home of his uncle and aunt and are struggling financially. Neither Shaheer nor Ashar ever knew the other existed. The two boys are angry that the adults in their lives have been lying to them their whole lives, and very anxious to get to know the parents and relatives they don’t remember. With the help of their cousin Zohra (with whom Ashar has grown up), they coordinate some swaps to spend time in each others’ households. Their relationship is prickly at first, and their personalities are quite different; Shaheer is reserved and closed off while Ashar is more outgoing and confident. When their father gets a lead on yet another new position in another city, the twins realize they don’t want to be separated, but now need a scheme to reveal to their parents that they’ve met and convince them to work out a plan for the whole family to coexist.
Bhai For Now is a modern, middle school twist on the Parent Trap plot. Shaheer and Ashar are both struggling in different ways with their social and emotional well-being, and it will be clear to readers that their challenges stem directly from the poor decision their parents made when the boys were babies. Shaheer has a hard time making friends due to the frequent moves, and thus resents his father and only really has a close relationship with his grandfather. Ashar is playing hockey and studying for an entrance exam to an elite high school, but money problems make both of those things difficult. How they rise above – and work together to resolve – these issues is a heartwarming, and often quite funny, journey. Loving relationships among their extended Pakistani American family make for a solid foundation for their ultimate success; many Muslim traditions are highlighted as part of the family’s strength and provide perfect windows and mirrors for readers.
Anything you did not like about the book? It’s hard to believe that these two smart boys knew their parents had gotten divorced and never tried to contact them. It was a relief at least that they did not try to get Mom and Dad back together!
To whom would you recommend this book? Upper elementary realistic fiction readers, especially fans of middle grade books by authors like Erin Entrada Kelly, Hena Khan, Saadia Faruqi, Debbie Michiko Florence, or Supriya Kelkar.
Who should buy this book? Public, elementary and middle school libraries
Where would you shelve it? Fiction
Should we (librarians) put this on the top of our “to read” piles? No
Reviewer’s Name, Library (or school), City: Leigh Russell King, Lincoln Street School, Northborough, Massachusetts.
Date of review: September 8, 2022