A lyrical coming of age story told in a verse, Golden Girl is sure to pull at your heart. Reem Faruqi’s middle grade novel follows Aafiyah Qamar, a Pakastani-American seventh grader who loves tennis, her family (even her sometimes annoying baby brother), and reading Weird But True Facts. Sometimes she doesn’t feel like she fits in, but mostly she’s happy hanging out with her one amazing friend and her loving family.
Except…sometimes Aafiyah borrows things. Without asking. Sometimes she gives them back, and sometimes she doesn’t.
As Aafiyah wrestles with what she knows is a terrible habit, her father is arrested– for a crime he didn’t commit. Aafiyah yearns to have her family back together. Maybe she can “borrow” something one last time, to save her family.
Though this novel is written in verse, it reads smoothly and is easy to follow. If your reader is intimidated by longer books, this gem of a novel is a great choice. It can show the beauty of writing in verse, the chapters are small and easy to digest, but it covers deep topics in a beautiful way. Aafiyah struggles with stealing, friendships, the illness of a family member, being separated from her dad, and comprehending money struggles for the first time. She also has to work through living her Muslim values in American culture. The scenes where she mentally works through why her clothes are different than the other girl on her tennis team, or when she answers questions about the hijab from an inquisitive if frustrating boy, showcase the hardship of feeling different from your peers without isolating the character or having her disobey her own religious beliefs.
Aafiyah’s obstacles and ideas she must come to term with are often related to why she feels like an outsider, but Faruqi perfectly captures the edge of adolescence and the moments of changing and growing that come with it. This novel is relatable to kids (and adults, quite frankly) of all walks of life, religions, and cultures; developing an internal barometer for social settings and the agony of sitting alone at lunch are not unique to any one culture.
This eloquent novel flows beautifully through the plot, is well paced, and has well developed characters. From Aafiyah’s observances of her mother to her friends to her relatives, each character is clearly defined. The plot brings a bad habit – stealing- into perspective, humanizing her struggle with it. Everyone has flaws they must work through, and a moment when they hit rock bottom. Aafiyah’s struggle is beautifully told, in a way that explains that while she knows it is wrong, she feels powerless to stop it. This concept can be difficult for adults to understand, but Faruqi makes it accessible and relatable.
Golden Girl is such a beautifully told story that I couldn’t put it down, and finished it within 24 hours. I highly recommend it for ages 8 and up– including adults! It’s gorgeously written, thought provoking, and one I’m sure I’ll be thinking on for a long time.
Golden Girl by Reem Faruqi will be available February 22, 2022 from HarperCollins Children’s Publishing. Thank you to NetGalley, Reem Faruqi, and HarperCollins for sharing this beautiful book with me so I could write this review.