Cover Image: The Next New Syrian Girl

The Next New Syrian Girl

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Member Reviews

Thank you to Netgalley and the publisher for granting me free access to the advanced digital copy of this book, as this book has already been published, I will not share my review on Netgalley at this time.

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This book is absolutely stunning from cover, to writing, to plot, to the pain I felt throughout. I believe everyone should read this and experience it's beauty!

The book is a duel POV narrative between two girls. Khadijah is a Syrian American Muslim girl who is into boxing, wants to travel the world and find freedom. Leene is a Syrian refugee and is carrying the weight of responsibility for her mother and herself in a new country. Khadijah's mother invites Leene and her mother to live with them. While Khadijah is extremely upset about this and Leene very hesitant, they slowly get to know each other and develop a friendship. Their new budding friendship is put to the test when Leene finds a photo online of a loved one she thought was dead and that takes her and Khadijah on an adventure.

There are a lot of heavy themes in this one. There's discussions and portrayal of xenophobia, Islamophobia, the war in Syria, the death of loved ones to war, grief, the Syrian refugee crisis and identity struggles.

Khadijah and Leene were two outstanding characters with different, yet similar challenges. The author did a fantastic voice of writing the two voices and what they endure throughout this book. I think everyone should read this book!

The only mild issue that I had with this book was the pacing. There are sections that felt a bit too slow considering the intensity the story builds towards. However, the writing is so lovely and the characters made it easy for me to keep engaged throughout.

I can't wait to see what more this author has in store!

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In "The Next New Syrian Girl", Shukairy has managed to accomplish what many writers struggle to do -- marry social commentary with an engaging plot in the YA genre. The narrative arc is engaging, leaving the reader wondering what will happen with each of the main characters, Khadija and Leene, while still leaving space for the author to make important points about growing up as Syrian in America today. This story is has a little something to interest everyone, and has a little something to teach everyone too.

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This book could easily have become a trite exploration of privilege and identity. And those are certainly big elements of this story Khadija is undeniably privileged. Not just compared to Leene but compared to the average American teen. This is where the weight of expectation comes into play. Everyone makes assumptions about who she is and what motivates here. The result is two complicated characters, both damaged by the past in unique ways. While Khadija is not always very likeable and Leene is perhaps a bit idealized they are complex enough to be interesting and keep us engaged with the plot.

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I’m going to preface this review with the important note that I am not Muslim, so I necessarily have an outsider view of this book’s plot and themes. Okay, let’s get into this review!

If you go to the Goodreads page for this book, it’s tagged as a young adult contemporary romance, and I have literally no idea why that is. This is 100% a realistic/contemporary novel, not a romance. It has a side romance in the book, but it is not at all the most important part of the plot. The actual heart of this story is about two Syrian girls (one Syrian American and the other a Syrian refugee) learning to use their differences to gain more perspective on their situations in order to grow as individuals.

Before you pick this book up, I want to warn you that it has a lot of heavy themes. Leene and her mother are Syrian refugees with dark, trauma-filled pasts, and these events are recalled multiple times throughout the book in detail. These include mentions and descriptions of major violence and multiple deaths. Khadija, on the other hand, is being raised in a family that I would describe as extremely dysfunctional. Her mother constantly makes her feel like she’s not good enough, her father neglects his family in favor of his work, and her brother has completely distanced himself from everyone and everything around him. Literally every single time Khadija had a conversation with one of her family members, I experienced a low-to-medium-grade panic attack. Their strained and toxic dynamic triggered me on such a visceral level that I actually developed extreme nausea and body aches at the end of the book. I honestly thought it was from something I ate/drank until it went away once I finished reading. There is also an attempted suicide with a fairly graphic aftermath in here that was not mentioned in the content warnings that I saw, so please be aware of that as well.

Now that I’ve got the disclaimers out of the way, let’s talk about the strong points of the novel. Because it tackles heavy themes, there is a lot for readers to learn and reflect on in these pages. We get views into the complex dynamics between being Syrian vs. being Syrian American, and the identity struggles that result from it. This is a character-driven novel that will make you feel every possible emotion you could think of, from happiness to anger to sadness. The author definitely does not shy away from getting political (a necessity, I think) with several mentions and depictions of the rampant xenophobia and islamophobia present in America, including in our political leaders. I wouldn’t say that it has a happy ending (I’d probably call it a hopeful ending, instead), but I think that’s kind of the whole point. The world is a mess; real lives don’t get wrapped and tied in a tidy little bow at the end of them.

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The Next New Syrian Girl is an excellent contemporary Muslim read that examines familial and platonic relationships. We follow the lives of two girls and the struggle to become the "perfect" Syrian daughter and what that might mean. Neither girl is alike. One goes to the gym studying martial arts while the other girl is a refugee due to the Syrian Revolution. They feel almost pitted against one another providing tension that brings in the readers yet everything changes as an unlikely friendship blossoms. Both struggle with the crisis in their home country while also balancing what it means to be the perfect Syrian daughter.

The book is extremely accessible developing such relatable scenarios even if it's not directly your own experience. It creates such complex empathy fostering conversation for young readers throughout the book.

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Thank you to the author, publisher, and Net Galley for an ARC of this book in exchange for an honest review.

I was interested in The Next New Syrian Girl from the beginning. I think this is an important book. It gave me another perspective on refugees and their struggles. I also love learning about other cultures. I love they both girls loved the country of their heritage. I love the characters and plot development. It touches on so many important topics: refugees, mental health, prejudices, family, and more. I highly recommend this book. .

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A bit late but I will write about this for Muslim Women’s Times magazine. I would love to talk to Ream about this on my podcast. This is an incredible debut !!

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Disclaimer: I received this e-arc, arc, and finished copy from the publisher. Thanks! All opinions are my own.

Book: The Next New Syrian Girl

Author: Ream Shukairy

Book Series: Standalone

Rating: 5/5

Diversity: Syrian American Muslim MC, Syrian Muslim MC, Syrian Muslim characters, Syrian American Muslim characters

Recommended For...: young adult readers, contemporary, Syrian refugees, Syrian War

Publication Date: March 14, 2023

Genre: YA Contemporary

Age Relevance: 13+ (violence, Islamaphobia, animal death, gore, PTSD, death, parental death, grief, racism, religion, drugs, sexism, romance, illness, cursing, panic attacks, bullying, depression, suicide)

Explanation of Above: There is some violence mentioned in the book in detail, along with some blood gore and the mention of the death of a family’s cat in depiction of the Syrian war as well as death and parental death. There are depictions and mentions of Islamaphobia, racism, and sexism. There are some scenes that show PTSD, grief, depression, and panic attacks. The Islamic religion is shown and mentioned and the detail in the book is beautiful. There are some small references to drugs once. There is a small side plot romance. Illness is mentioned and briefly shown. There are a couple of instances of cursing. There are a couple of small mentions of bullying. There is also a scene where someone who committed suicide is found before death and they are saved.

Publisher: Little Brown Books for Young Readers

Pages: 416

Synopsis: Khadija Shami is a Syrian American high school senior raised on boxing and football. Saddled with a monstrous ego and a fierce mother to test it, she dreams of escaping her sheltered life to travel the world with her best friend.

Leene Tahir is a Syrian refugee, doing her best to adjust to the wildly unfamiliar society of a suburban Detroit high school while battling panic attacks and family pressures.

When their worlds collide the result is catastrophic. To Khadija, Leene embodies the tame, dutiful Syrian ideal she's long rebelled against. And to Leene, Khadija is the strong-willed, closed-off American who makes her doubt her place in the world.

But as Khadija digs up Leene’s past, a startling and life-changing discovery forces the two of them closer together. As the girls secretly race to unravel the truth, a friendship slowly and hesitantly begins blooming. Doubts are cast aside as they realize they have more in common than they each expected. What they find takes them on a journey all the way to Jordan, challenging what each knows about the other and herself.

Review: This book was absolutely beautiful. The book is a duel POV narrative between two girls who are so alike but so different at the same time. Khadijah is a Syrian American Muslim girl who is into boxing and is gathering money to travel the world with her best friend… and to also escape her extremely sheltered home. Leene is a Syrian refugee who is just trying to survive America while being the adult for both her and her mom. The two girls live at the same house when Khadija’s mother hosts Leene and her mother and, though it takes some time, the girls start to bond over their mutual interests. However, their friendship is put to the test when Leene finds a photo online that might lead to reunification between a lost family member she thought was dead. The book was expertly written and the two voices felt so different but the same at the same time. The characters were wonderfully developed and the world building was magnificent. The book offers a lot of insight into the Syrian refugee crisis and I think it should be a must read for high schoolers.

The only issue I had with the book is that the pacing felt a little slow until the very end, then things started to really pick up. Realistically, I think the author could have went another 100 pages or so with the amount of detail that she added.

Verdict: I highly recommend this one!

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Every now and then a book will take me by surprise. This was an emotional read. Reading about how Khadija and Leene had to deal with the effects of the Syrian revolution, the pressure of being the perfect Syrian daughter and navigating through their pain and grief, left my heart feeling heavy. Overall, a good read.

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Khadija and Leene are both Syrian, but their lives couldn’t be more different. Khadija, a proud hijabi, grew up and lives in the U.S.—in a giant mansion with wealthy parents, surrounded by a thriving Syrian American community, going to high school, boxing, and playing football. Yet, she’s constantly being told that she’s not enough. Not polite enough, not modest enough, not girly enough, and certainly not Syrian enough. No one knows that in her heart, she carries around the Syria from her childhood like a good luck charm. Especially not Leene Tahir, who moves into her house and immediately labels her “the American girl.”

To Leene, the carefree and confident existence of Khadija Shami is the opposite of what she knows to be Syrian. Because to be Syrian is to have lived through war and terror, to have been pushed and pushed out of refugee camps, to have lost countless loved ones to horrors better left unspoken, and to have to carry the trauma of it all every minute of every day. Her quiet strength comes off as subservience and her perfect manners convince everyone that’s she’s the perfect Syrian daughter. No wonder Khadija can’t stand the sight of Leene Tahir.

A heart-wrenching, deeply emotional, compelling contemporary YA novel, THE NEXT NEW SYRIAN GIRL is a story centered on the aftermath of the Syrian revolution, about unlikely friendships, complicated relationships between mothers and daughters, and the harrowing experiences of being a refugee and an immigrant. It is also a story about grief, in its many forms, and the burdens and expectations that comes with being the child of an immigrant. Overall, a worthwhile read!

CW/TW: sexism, racism, Islamophobia, war and terror, PTSD, anxiety, depression, suicide attempt

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Khadija Shami is a Syrian American high school senior raised on boxing and football. Saddled with a monstrous ego and a fierce mother to test it, she dreams of escaping her sheltered life to travel the world with her best friend.

Leene Tahir is a Syrian refugee, doing her best to adjust to the wildly unfamiliar society of a suburban Detroit high school while battling panic attacks and family pressures.

When their worlds collide the result is catastrophic. To Khadija, Leene embodies the tame, dutiful Syrian ideal she's long rebelled against. And to Leene, Khadija is the strong-willed, closed-off American who makes her doubt her place in the world.

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Khadija is an all-(Syrian)American teenager who loves boxing, has an overbearing and kinda rude mom, and wants to go on a big trip with her best friend for graduation.

Leene has moved to America with her mother; they are Syrian refugees who left the country in the wake of the Syrian revolution. It wasn’t always just the two of them, and the memories of before haunt Leene, so she hasn’t had the mental space or time to enjoy or wish for anything in quite some time.

To Khadija’s dismay, her mom offers their home to Leene and her mother. What’s initially considered an inconvenience to Khadija results in a sweet friendship, and the two girls do more than just have fun together. With Khadija, Leene stumbles back across a big secret from her past, with results that could be life-changing to her family of two, and not necessarily in a good way.

Leene has a great deal of trauma, understandably. Khadija suffers a ton of pressure from her mom to be “the perfect Syrian girl”, more like Leene, which she finds impossible to do as a Syrian American: too American for the Syrians, too Syrian for the Americans.

Khadija misses the Syria she visited family in as a child, with memories of it being beautiful and summery, while Leene’s memories are of a war-torn Syria, shells of buildings and emotional ties to some of the worst moments of her life.

The differences between the two girls makes their friendship even more beautiful, and it’s interesting to watch them find the threads that do connect them when so much about each of them is unlike the other. It’s so worth the read

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Oh this was a fantastic read! Getting to know Khadija and Leene was a joy. There are so many elements of the story that I enjoyed. I loved that mental health was addressed, PTSD to be more specific. We also have themes of friendship along with strong and powerful women. Of course, overcoming adversity plays a huge part. Something I really appreciate it was the fact that though people can come from different backgrounds, there are still some commonality that binds us together. And the opposite is also true just: because a person shares a similar background to you, you could have completely, and totally different lived experiences.

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Five Reasons to Read The Next New Syrian Girl!

1. Friendship. This is an emotional story about two women who come together through their life experiences to find a way to give back and get back to the Syria they both love.
2. Fierce Women. Khadija uses her love of boxing to not only defy her overbearing mother but to also show her that she can take care of herself.
3. Perseverance. Leene is determined to get back to Syria, even if she has to save the money herself because after she finds out her little brother may still be alive, there's no way she's going to stay put. Khadija is determined to get Leene to Syria despite the lack of her mother's support.
4. Mental Health Awareness. Leene struggles with anxiety and PTSD due to her experiences moving from War torn Syria to Jordan and back to Syria before receiving Asylum in the United States. Khadija's brother Zane hasn't been the same since they got back from Syria. Little did they know that he has been battling with depression.
5. Defying Adversity. Leene and Khadija may attend a school where other Syrian students go but over the course of this book you'll find that even though someone comes from the same culture, not all understand your life experiences.

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“𝒀𝒐𝒖 𝒎𝒊𝒈𝒉𝒕 𝒏𝒆𝒗𝒆𝒓 𝒔𝒆𝒆 𝒚𝒐𝒖𝒓 𝒇𝒂𝒎𝒊𝒍𝒚 𝒊𝒏 𝑺𝒚𝒓𝒊𝒂 𝒂𝒈𝒂𝒊𝒏, 𝒃𝒖𝒕 𝒕𝒉𝒆𝒊𝒓 𝒎𝒆𝒎𝒐𝒓𝒊𝒆𝒔 𝒍𝒊𝒗𝒆 𝒘𝒊𝒕𝒉 𝒚𝒐𝒖 𝒇𝒐𝒓𝒆𝒗𝒆𝒓. 𝑬𝒗𝒆𝒏 𝒊𝒇 𝒕𝒉𝒆𝒚’𝒓𝒆 𝒐𝒏 𝒕𝒉𝒆 𝒐𝒕𝒉𝒆𝒓 𝒔𝒊𝒅𝒆 𝒐𝒇 𝒕𝒉𝒆 𝒘𝒐𝒓𝒍𝒅 𝒐𝒓 𝒊𝒇 𝒚𝒐𝒖 𝒄𝒂𝒏’𝒕 𝒔𝒕𝒂𝒏𝒅 𝒕𝒐 𝒃𝒆 𝒂𝒓𝒐𝒖𝒏𝒅 𝒕𝒉𝒆𝒎 𝒇𝒐𝒓 𝒗𝒆𝒓𝒚 𝒍𝒐𝒏𝒈.”

The Next New Syrian Girl
By Ream Shukairy
Genre: Young Adult Contemporary Romance
Publishing Date: March 14, 2023
My Rate: 5⭐❤️❤️❤️❤️❤️

Special thanks to the author, @tbrbeyondtours , @netgalley and to the publisher for approving this copy. I'm on cloud nine to be part of the tour.

The first thing about this novel that caught my attention was the Middle Eastern representation, which I always love in a book. I was even more convinced to read it after reading the synopsis and the title. I also can't stop admiring this stunning cover.

I can't even speak anymore. This book has it all. I can't put into words how much I adore this novel. It was easy to get along, yet the words depiction was profound. Also, the concept itself was deep. I adore both of the characters, Khadija and Leene. Despite the conflict they both experienced in the beginning, their friendship has grown more endearing as the story goes on.

Both Characters are lovely and kind. They simply have different ways of expressing their love for others, mainly for their families. As I read more, I'm becoming increasingly in love with them. The ending was so emotional, and the Syrian vibe was beautifully depicted.

It is such an honor for me to have the opportunity to read this sweet yet poignant book. It's definitely worth the hype. Thanks to the author for bringing up this beautiful story. Syria will always have a special spot in my heart and hopefully, with this story's written, Syria and its people won't be forgotten by the world. Let's have them in our prayers and never stop!

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In dual perspectives we see the powerful way the lives of Khadija, a Syrian American, and Leene, A Syrian Refugee, intertwine.

Khadija is a boxer who can't wait to be 18 and move out of her parent's house. Leene got her and her mom to America, but now the trauma of her journey is coming to light through panic attacks.

Both were strong from the very beginning, but the character change shown in this novel is incredible, and shows the progress of showing bravery can be seen in different ways than society expects.

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5 Stars

The Next New Syrian Girl follows two Muslim girls as they try to navigate the world around them when the world seems set on tearing them down.

Khadija is a Syrian American who uses boxing as a way to escape the fights with her mother, who wants her to be “the perfect Syrian daughter”, and her fear for her family living in Syria. She comes off as combative and defensive oftentimes keeping those close to her at an arm’s length. When Leene first comes into the picture, she isn’t the biggest fan of hers and she represents everything her mother wants her to be. As the story progresses though, she goes through lots of personal growth finding a balance between being Syrian enough and gaining her own sense of independence.

Leene is a Syrian Refugee who has come to Detroit with her mother, but still carries the pain of her past life in Syria while trying to adjust to her new life in America. Leene represents "the perfect Syrian daughter" presenting herself as soft spoken and doing whatever is asked of her. Underneath the surface though, she suffers from the pain and loss she experienced in Syria but doesn't want to be seen as weak and frail by others.

Shukairy does a brilliant job of weaving the two girls’ own personal journeys into one comprehensive storyline. As the story progresses, Khadija and Leene develop a beautiful friendship gaining new perspectives they didn’t hold otherwise. Through Khadija and Leene the author allows the readers to explore Syrian identities through two different perspectives — one of a refugee and another one from America. While they are polar opposites, they are able to form a beautiful sisterhood helping each other heal in the process from trauma and pain they’ve experienced.

Shukairy does a brilliant job of weaving the two girls' own personal journeys into one comprehensive storyline. As the story progresses, Khadija and Leene develop a beautiful friendship gaining new perspectives they didn’t hold otherwise. Through Khadija and Leene the author allows the readers to explore Syrian identities through two different perspectives — one of a refugee and another one from America. While they are polar opposites, they are able to form a beautiful sisterhood helping each other heal in the process from trauma and pain they’ve experienced.

The writing in this story was absolutely breathtaking and gorgeous, pairing perfectly with this poignant and heartwarming story that emphasizes themes of friendships, grief, and family. This is the kind of story that will have readers emotionally invested as they put themselves in the characters' shoes. While I cannot speak of Middle Eastern and Muslim representation, I was so happy to see it as it is often overlooked in Young Adult literature, and feel that many Middle Eastern/Muslim readers will be able to relate to this story.

The Next New Syrian Girl is the kind of story that is hard to put into words just how good it is. It's the kind of story that will stick with you long after you finish reading and introduce you to diverse perspectives that you weren't aware of before. This is the type of story that I encourage everyone to read as it is full of heart of two loveable and complex characters just trying to navigate through life.

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I read this book as part of the blog tour hosted by TBR & Beyond Tours. Special thanks to Little, Brown Books for Young Readers for providing a digital ARC via NetGalley in exchange for an honest review. 4 stars!

TL;DR: This was a complex and emotional coming-of-age story about family, identity, and belonging. It shines a pointed light on the impact of the Syrian War on the Syrians in Syria, Syrian refugees, and Syrian Americans. This story is rich in culture and is packed with love for Syria as highlighted by the experiences of Khadija and Leene, two Syrian teenagers whose families may come from the same country but have entirely different life experiences. I loved how they learn from each other and grow together and the strength of the friendship that they form was really heartwarming! This took me on a complex journey of emotions and overall, I thought it was a great debut novel!

There is a lot to love and appreciate in The Next New Syrian Girl—from the richness of the culture, the complex family relationships (especially mother-daughter and brother-sister) and sociocultural expectations, the heartwarming friendships, and the budding soft romance. I feel like this is on the longer side for a contemporary and the author does pack a lot of themes into these pages, but I think Shukairy does a great job weaving an emotional, realistic, heartwrenching and hopeful story. Told through dual perspectives, we follow Khadija and Leene as they navigate being Syrian American and a Syrian refugee respectively and as they fight their inner monsters and deal with the direct and indirect impacts of the war that tore their country apart. We see their experiences as two Hijabi teenagers living in a country where they are treated with vile hatred, bigotry, and racism all based on how they look, what they wear, and where people assume they come from. But we also see them deal with really rough family situations, survivor's guilt, and PTSD.

Khadija was admittedly not a very easy character to like and her portions of the story were surprisingly tougher to read than Leene's, despite the horrors that Leene and her mother had to endure to end up where they are. Khadija is bitter, combative, and abrasive—she's constantly on the defence and keeps most people at arm's length aside from her best friend Nassima and Younes (sort of). Her attitude made her POV very difficult to get through at times but she grew on me by the end, as she experiences *a lot* of personal growth. Most of her attitude stems from the horribly antagonistic relationship full of miscommunications and misunderstandings with her mother; plus, she has an almost non-existent relationship with her father and a careless relationship with her younger brother, Zain. She constantly deals with barbs from her mother about needing to be the "perfect Syrian daughter" according to her standards and continuously falls short. Shukairy portrays their relationship in a very unfiltered light and we get to see the messiness of Khadija's experience trying to balance feeling and being Syrian enough for herself and for everyone else while lunging for independence where and when she can. I came to really respect her strength and how she grew from being that short-tempered and judgemental teenager at the start.

Leene on the other hand is quintessentially the perfect Syrian daughter who respects her elders, cares for her mother in every way she can, and is soft-spoken and demure. But she's hiding a big secret underneath the surface and the more we get to know her, the more we see she's not really that "perfect Syrian girl" people see on the surface. Leene was an easy character to sympathise with. She and her mother have had to endure the unimaginable and her strength was admirable but her willingness to show vulnerability, especially with Khadija, was too. She doesn't want to be seen as a refugee or someone to be pitied for all the loss and trauma she experienced, and she has a really fierce and determined fighting strength that I really respected! I had a feeling her story arc would go the way it did and while I felt this particular part of her story felt very rushed and packed in at the very end, it was a hopeful ending that left my heart feeling light—a welcome reprieve from the heaviness felt for much of the story (not in a negative way at all though)! I loved the friendship that she developed with Khadija—it's always heartwarming to see how two people from such contrasting backgrounds can find common ground, respect and love for each other. I appreciated how the author also had them address their misconceptions about each other which only served to strengthen their friendship!

There were only a few things that I wished had been done differently. I wished the situation with Zain had been done better because it felt very shoehorned in and again, rushed. I also felt there was a lack of nuance to many of the side characters who were there simply to push the story along. As. I mentioned, the last 30% of the book felt very rushed as so much was packed into it and by the time the story came to an end, there was not much time left to process or digest everything that happened. That said, I think this was still a strong debut novel that I'm glad I got the chance to read. I would definitely recommend it to those who want to learn more about the Syrian war, about Syrians living abroad both as refugees and those born and raised in those countries, as well as if you love stories that are rich in culture as well as family drama (lol).

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I initially wanted to read this because I read that there was anxiety rep. But this book turned into more than I could have ever imagined. It’s about feeling like a foreigner in the land of your birth. It’s about sisterhood, mental health, family, and more.

Told in alternating viewpoints, we have Khadija, born and raised in the states. She’s under the weight of her mother, who she feels doesn’t accept her. She’s a boxer who found happiness in finding her strength. But she wants more out of life but living with her family, she knows they won’t let her fly. She’s also so very funny, and I adored her personality, even with the walls she’s erected.

Leene is new to the states. She’s escaped unimaginable horrors. She wants to start a new life, but the past keeps coming back to swallow her whole. I almost suspect Leene has PTSD, though that’s never stated. I empathized with her so much. She had a quiet strength that shone through in the hardest moments.

Watching these two young women come together in sisterhood was an absolute joy. Shukairy brings to light so many important subjects. We wade through depression and anxiety. The girls discuss how wearing a hijab forces them to make people around them feel comfortable. We go through the massacres and the chemical warfare in Syria. There’s so much more that I cannot find the right words for, but this book is beautiful. It’s funny, meaningful, and so very special; I cannot recommend it enough.

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