Cover Image: Yusuf Azeem Is Not a Hero

Yusuf Azeem Is Not a Hero

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Member Reviews

It is hard to believe that it has been 20 years since the tragedy of September 11, and this 368 page upper middle grades novel is very relatable to kids about to experience the anniversary and to us adults that were in high school/college when the event occurred.  The book is very contemporary mentioning Covid-19 and grappling with the effects of the attacks, the war, the Patriot Act, and Islamophobia, both at the time of the terrorist attacks and now, 20 years later. The characters are unapologetically Muslim, and doctrine, practice, culture, and rebellion are all included in a book that takes a bit of time to get going, but then holds you close and makes the characters feel like old friends who sat around the table telling you their story.  The middle school characters present in a lot of shades of gray as they learn about themselves, their place, and begin to understand those around them.  There isn't really a lot of resolution in the book, it is more a snap shot of life and the stresses that Muslim communities in the US feel and have felt for the last two decades.  Possible concerns: a group of Muslim kids dress as Santa Clause as they sneak out to trick-or-treat, the kids discuss eating halal or not and just not telling their parents as well as discussing the requirements and purpose of hijab, an Uncle has a girlfriend and is off to meet her parents, and a Muslim boy wears an earring.  All pretty tame, and really pretty judgement free, alhumdulillah.

SYNOPSIS:


Yusuf Azeem is excited to be starting middle school, but when he swings open his brand new locker and finds a note saying, "You suck," he is rattled.  Surely the note was not meant for him, he doesn't have any enemies.  He is the son of the beloved owner of the local dollar store in tiny Frey, Texas.  He loves robotics and dreams of being on the middle school robotics team and winning the Texas Robotics Competition.  But the next day there is a note again.  Best friend Danial is convinced middle school is going to be awful, but ever optimistic Yusuf is not ready to concede, although he really doesn't want to be a hero either.  However, with the 20th anniversary of September 11th approaching, and the appearance of a group calling themselves The Patriot Sons, life is getting very tense for the Muslim families, and their friends, in this small Southern Town.

Yusuf and his friends gather at robotics club and at the Mosque the parents are building themselves.  They sort through their differences, they work on their friendships and they start to find their own thoughts and opinions.  Along the way Yusuf is given his uncle's diary that was written during the 9/11 attacks and the first hand account allows Yusuf to broaden his view of this historical event, combined with him understanding his Sunday school lessons and seeing himself and others bullied, really forces Yusuf to decide who he wants to be, and if in fact he can avoid being a hero.  

On the surface there is discussion of xenophobia, being a Muslim in America, and interfaith cooperation, but there is also some very frightening and real-life based inspiration of vandalism, and imprisonment of a child that play heavily on the storyline.             

WHY I LIKE IT:

I love the relationship of Yusuf and his much younger sister.  She is in awe of her big brother, and he is absolutely adorable with her, whether it is babysitting her dollies or programming her unicorn games, it is precious.  I also love the diversity within the Muslim families in Frey.  There are hijabis and non hijabis, halal only and eat outside meat folk, there are very chill and very nosey aunties, but they all stick together, there aren't that many of them and I love it.  Similarly, the non Muslim side characters also are not a monolith, they grow and change and have their own lines that need to be drawn within families.  The town rallies and the robot thread is strong, but I didn't feel like the book had a storyline and plot and resolution, it just kind of shows the characters, and gives a glimpse in to their lives, so I was left with a lot of questions: how was the little sister's health, what happened to the Patriot Sons, did the mayor finally stand up to them, did the uncle get married, where was Cameron's mom, did Jared's mom stay home or did she just get a leave for Thanksgiving, did Jared's grandma ever get involved?

The character I struggled the most with was the mom.  She is an American born daughter of immigrants, she lived through the attacks in America, she is competent and articulate, but I feel like she doesn't quite radiate the strength I wanted her to have.  I wanted to love her, and I wanted to be inspired by her and her frustrations, but she seemed to just fade in most instances.  The dad is a bit underdeveloped too, he has a shop, but few customers, I'm kind of worried about the financial security of the family, and then takes weird gifts to the neighboring church on Christmas Eve.   

I didn't understand why so many people didn't want to talk about their 9/11 experience.  I get that everyone deals and views things differently, but I have never really found people hesitant to talk about the attacks and the aftermath. I was at the University of Utah studying Mass Communication on that day, I've interviewed a lot of people over the years regarding what they experienced, and talked to my kids and had others talk to my kids, no one has ever once shown hesitancy, so I initially struggled with the premise that Yusuf didn't know what he wasn't supposed to forget and why his family kept trying to avoid talking about the changes of life before and life after. 

The book does a good job of articulating how painful the loss of life was for all of humanity and showing that Muslims were both grieving the deaths and destruction, while also having to defend their separation from those that committed the atrocities.

I do love that Sunday school lessons, and elder advice, and khutbahs are a part of the tools given to Yusuf to sort through his world and decision making processes.  I like that he pushes back and doesn't just accept everything thrown at him.  Even the nosey harsh aunties he finds connection with and tries to see their experiences, it really is impressive.

FLAGS:

It talks about the death tolls and the gut wrenching loss of life.  There is also bullying, and false imprisonment, and a crime with a gun that is mentioned.  There is a hijab pulled off, vandalism of a Muslim owned store, there are threats and pushing.  Yusuf's uncle is out of town and his mom and grandma are bickering that he is meeting his girlfriend's parents, so it isn't clear if it is all arranged, or everyone is on board or if it is something more or less than what it is.  Cameron has an earring.  Danial doesn't eat outside meat, but really wants too.  The kids don't lie necessarily, but they sneak out in Santa Clause costumes to trick or treat on Halloween after commenting that they shouldn't and don't celebrate the holiday.  Yusuf's dad knows Christmas carols and discusses his favorites at interfaith exchanges, the highly religious, "Silent Night" is among them.  A cat also goes missing, an incident from the diary, and then is placed on the doorstep dead.

TOOLS FOR LEADING THE DISCUSSION:

I think, like with other 9/11 books I've done as book club selections, just sharing my experience and asking any other teachers to chime in with theirs is enough to take fiction out from the pages and make it real for the kids.  They then ask questions, connect it to the text and to their history lessons and the story resonates with the historical event.  I think this book could work for a middle school book club and provide a lot, aside from the Islamophobia to discuss, I think it would in fact be a great book to start the school year off with to get to know the kids and how they view the world.
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Even though it has been 20 years since 9/11, Yusuf's story shows that many of the Islamaphobic feelings in America are still present today. Yusuf faces both micro and macro aggressions on a regular basis and tries to figure out how to deal with them. For today's students, this is historical fiction and will provide some insight into why adults around them find this day so important to our history. Another great middle great read from Saadia Faurqi.
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Yusuf Azeem has spent all his life growing up in the small town of Frey, Texas. His passion is electronics and the chance to participate in the regional robotics competition, which he just knows he can help his school win. Only, this year is going to be more difficult than he thought. Because this year is the twentieth anniversary of the 9/11 terrorist attacks, an anniversary that has everyone in his Muslim community on edge. The small town has proudly displayed "Never Forget" banners everywhere. But there is a hostile group of townspeople who want the established and respected by most, Muslim families, out and gone. This takes many forms of hate. An organized Protest group called The Patriot Sons, hurtful messages slipped into Yusuf’s locker, the sabotage attempts of the building of a Mosque, an incident where a student hijab is snatched from her head, and the climaxing event involving the backpack. It is unbelievable that anger from two decades ago hasn't gone away. Can Yusuf hold onto his joy-and his friendships-in the face of such heartache and prejudice?

This is an important story and also important to middle school readers a well paced and interesting book. Early on Yusuf gets a true insight into 9/11 when Uncle Rahman realizes the schools in Texas simply touch on the event in the classroom. He gives Yusuf his journal he wrote during the attack and events following. The journal entries are strategically, placed throughout the story written in Italic print.

This book is so well multifaceted as we view the rich home life and customs of Muslum families, the raciest and bullies that are students and sadly the behavior is learned from parents and then there us the exciting STEM component of the robotics competition. The events are all wrapped up in the very real drama of middle school life.
This book will evoke all kinds of emotions for the reader.
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There will probably be more books like this as the 20th anniversary of September 11 nears, examining the longlasting affect of that event on young Arabs and Muslims (not always the same thing!) nowhere near New York, Boston or DC and far too young to have participated.  Has the anger and fear diminished, or is it still bubbling under the surface?  Yusuf, in Texas, finds one answer in his small town that may help readers understand the "other" side of this issue.

eARC provided by publisher via Netgalley.
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I really enjoyed this middle grade novel centered around a Muslim boy who is experiencing Islamophobia at his middle school near the anniversary of 9/11. The history of the event and after effects were beautifully wound into the story of Yusuf and competing in the robotics competition. 

There were a couple of things that stood out for me in this book:
1. I really loved the way that the author connected the event of 9/11 to the present using Yusuf's uncle's journal around that time. It helped bring both the facts and emotions of that time into the story better, and as someone who was in middle school during 9/11, I thought it was very well done.

2. The different friendships and the way that they fluctuated was beautiful and artfully done. Oftentimes I find in books that kids are either friends or not, and this novel explored the gray area of that in a really great way. I don't want to give anything away, you'll have to read to find out!

I will definitely be adding this title to our middle school library when it comes out and recommending it to kids. We have a lot of robotics fans/competitors and I think they will really enjoy this book for that and for the message and topics it discusses!
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A timely story about 9/11.  Yusuf (and his uncle's) story show how far we've come and how far we still have to go.  Faruqi does a great job of placing historical events in a modern context.
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Yusuf Azeem is a hero in the best possible way.  I appreciated his confusion about 9/11 and why that has made life so much harder for our Muslim neighbors.  He shows the true sense of community and I'm glad his community comes together to stand with their Muslim friends and against the Patriot Sons.
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A raw and poignant story by @SaadiaFaruqi that shows the ugly truth of hatred and reminds the reader the importance of empathy. A must read for middle school students and teachers. Thank you @NetGalley for the advanced copy.
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What a fantastic book. Yusuf is a character we all need in our lives. I love his calm, positive spirit and I love that he always stands up for what he knows is right. We can all learn a lot from him.
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Quick and engaging read exploring xenophobia, islamophobia, and the lasting impact of the 9/11 terrorist attacks. In the small town of Frey, Texas, our protagonist Yusuf deals with a school bully, a racist gang named “The Patriot Boys” infiltrating his town, a stressful robotics competition, and flashbacks from his uncle’s journal chronicling the effects of September 11th when he was in middle school.
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So glad I was able to read the eARC By NetGalley of Yusuf Azeem is Not a Hero.  I have thoroughly enjoyed other books by this author and this one did not disappoint.  I was brought to tears multiple times during this emotional read about an Islamic boy's experiences during the 20th anniversary of 9/11.  Sadly, many things have not changed from what his uncle wrote about his personal experiences when 9/11 happened, but this book shows hope for the future when dealing with bullies and standing up for what is right.  It comes out the beginning of September and should be on every MG Must read book list!
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This book is the sort of story I'll be thinking about for a long time to come. It's a story of family and community, of determination and challenges. We follow Yusuf as he starts middle school, joining the school robotics team, watching his community work to build their mosque every Sunday, and facing bullying and racism from parts of the town. 

I loved seeing how the Muslim community worked together. I loved the feeling of family, and the different dynamics between various characters. I also loved how earnest and hopeful Yusuf was throughout the story, how determined he was to stand up and do the right thing time and time again. 

This is also a story that was difficult to read at times. The characters face blatant racism and cruelty many times through the book. Yet, if it was difficult to read, how difficult must it be to live this reality? This book is an important one that will ressonate with many readers, and get others thinking about their actions in important ways.
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Very well written novel about the long-lasting legacy of 9/11, Islamophobia, and the rising tide of xenophobic nationalism. Yusuf Azeem is an 11 year old American Muslim living in the small town of Frey, Texas. He is harassed by fellow classmate Ethan Grant, who is in turn the son of a violent white nationalist who has recently moved back to town following the collapse of his marriage. While Ethan is in many ways an equal opportunity bully, he takes particular delight in harassing the small population of Muslim students at his local middle school and targets Yusuf in particular once Yusuf begins to stand up to him. Yusuf's story is accompanied by short journal entries written by his uncle 20 years before during the fall of 2001. An ongoing subplot related to the state robotics championship is inspired by the experiences of  Ahmed "Clockboy" Mohamed. Themes covered include tolerance, Islamophobia, xenophobia, assimilation, morality, making choices, and living religious/moral values.
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Yusuf is looking forward to his first day of middle school, but then he opens his locker and finds a hateful note and his world shifts. More notes follow, but instead of telling his parents or the administration, Yusuf decides to stop using his locker. What could be causing people to spew such hateful language? It doesn't help that Yusuf is Muslim and the 20th anniversary of 9/11 is coming up. Will his small Texas town accept Yusuf and the other Muslim families, most of whom have lived there for years, or will ignorance and discrimination win out? This is a compelling middle grade story that explores issues of religious and cultural identity, friendship, family and compassion.
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Some of the dialogue is a bit heavy handed but this is a great book for middle schoolers. The unflinching look at Islamophobia and bullying is what teens need to read. The journals from the main characters uncle really tie the book together in a meaningful way
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First off, thanks to the publisher and NetGalley for the eARC of this book.  

Yusuf Azeem Is Not a Hero by Saadia Faruqi is a book that will stay with me for a while.  It deals with issues such as bullying, friendship, grief, islamophobia, 9/11, and terrorism.  It has been 20 years since the 9/11 terrorist attacks on New York City's Twin Towers, yet anger and resentment towards Muslims are still rampant in the small town of Frey, Texas where Yusuf and his family reside.  Yusuf finds hate notes in his locker, he is ridiculed at school, the mosque his community is building is being challenged by a white supremacists' group called the Patriot Sons, his father's dollar store is vandalized, and more.  

Yusuf finds some solace in reading his uncle's journal which centers around his personal experience of 9/11, and his participation in his school's robotics competition team.  After a profoundly disturbing incident at school, he feels broken.  But with advice from his family and faith, he takes the path that love will win over hate.  This book is a great read!
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Since the audience this novel is geared towards were not yet alive when 9/11 occurred, this story can serve both as a history lesson for them, and a reflection on the resulting attitudes that have contributed to today's too frequent nationalism, xenophobia, and hate crimes. Yusuf is a young teen, living in a Texas town, interested in robotics and determined to participate in the championships. But because it is also the "anniversary" of 9/11, he soon finds himself and his family on the receiving end of threats, and doesn't fully understand why they become a target of hate. A beloved family member helps Yusuf gain a better understanding by sharing his personal journals from the time of the attacks, and we are all reminded of how far we still have to go. This was an emotional read, and undoubtedly will be even more so for young adult readers, but it is an important read. I received an ARC from NetGalley, to whom I am very grateful.
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Very nicely done look at the intersecting pressures of middle school, community, bigotry, and history. I really enjoyed seeing Yusuf figure himself out through the lenses of his interests and his religion. While the final message that love can overcome hate could come across as trite or cheesy it mostly just came as a relief.
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Many teachers are quickly realizing that the students they have in class weren’t even born when 9/11 occurred and yet their Muslim students are facing ignorance and prejudice birthed 20 years ago. That’s why books like Faruqi’s are essential. This title will be the starting point for meaningful conversations with students. The narrative is fast paced and appeals to the universal issues facing MG-aged readers while still letting Muslim students see themselves on the page. Highly recommended.
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It has been 20 years since our country was attacked and sadly prejudices and bullying are alive  today against Muslims living in America and really anyone who is different. 

 Yusuf Azeem has spent all his life growing up in the small town of Frey, Texas. His passion is electronics and the chance to participate in the regional robotics competition, which he just knows he can help his school win. Only, this year is going to be more difficult than he thought. Because this year is the twentieth anniversary of the 9/11 terrorist attacks, an anniversary that has everyone in his Muslim  community on edge. The small town has proudly displayed "Never Forget" banners everywhere. But there is a hostile group of townspeople who want the established and respected by most, Muslim families, out and gone. This takes many forms of hate. An organized Protest group called The Patriot Sons, hurtful messages slipped into Yusuf’s  locker, the sabotage attempts of the building of a Mosque, an incident where a student hijab is snatched from her head, and the climaxing event involving the backpack. It is unbelievable that anger from two decades ago hasn't gone away. Can Yusuf hold onto his joy-and his friendships-in the face of such heartache and prejudice?

This is an important story and also important to middle school readers a well paced and interesting book. Early on Yusuf gets a true insight into 9/11 when Uncle Rahman realizes the schools in Texas simply touch on the event in the classroom. He gives Yusuf his journal he wrote during the attack and events following. The journal entries are strategically, placed throughout the story written in Italic print. 

This book is so well multifaceted as we view the rich home life and customs  of Muslum families, the raciest and bullies that are students and sadly the behavior is learned from parents and then there us the exciting STEM component of the robotics competition. The events are all wrapped up in the very real drama of middle school life. 
This book will evoke all kinds of emotions for the reader.
Was this review helpful?