Friday, October 15, 2021

Unsettled - Reem Faruqi

Summary: When Nurah's family moves from Kara-chi, Pakistan, to Peachtree City, Georgia, all she really wants is to blend in, but she stands out for all the wrong reasons.  Nurah's accent, floral-print kurtas, and tea-colored skin make her feel excluded, and she's left to eat lunch alone under the stairwell, until she meets Stahr at swimming tryouts.  Stahr covers her body when in the water, just like Nurah, but for very different reasons.

But in the water, Nurah doesn't want to blend in: She wants to stand out.  She wants to win medals like her star athlete brother, Owais -- who is going through struggles of his own in America -- yet when sibling rivalry gets in the way, she makes a split-second decision of betrayal that changes their fates.

As Nurah slowly beings to sprout wings in the form of strong swimming arms, she gradually gains the courage to stand up to bullies, fight for what she believes in, and find her place.   

(Summary from book - Image from

My Review:  Unsettled is a thoughtful collection of free verse poems that, when read consecutively, tells the compelling story of teenage girl trying to find her way in a strange new country.  Nurah is sad to leave her grandparents and her beautiful homeland of Pakistan for the unfamiliar streets of Peachtree City, GA.  Here is a section of a poem where Nurah expresses how she feels during the family's first few days in America:

Settled is
when your roots are strong
and spread out every which way...
Settled is
when it's hard to pull you up,
when it's easier just to leave you
I am
dandelion fluff
ready to float
If I could,
I would
float all the way back home.
I don't even need a breeze.
My roots are anything but settled. 

At first, Nurah doesn't have much that is positive to say about the United States.  She was told they moved for job security and better schools -- but now Ammi is sad all the time, her brother, Oswai, is angry, Baba is working all the time, and the schools aren't better.  Nurah feels conspicuous in her colorful clothing, insecure about her accent, and lonely in the lunchroom.  Eventually, things start to look up.  she makes a friend and finds contentment swimming with her brother in the local pool until a moment of jealousy leads to unintended but devastating consequences.  Ultimately, Nurah learns to accept herself, stand up for others, and finds her own way to shine.

Nurah's story is told in nine sections, each given a heading that has a double-meaning as it relates to both plants and the story (e.g. Uprooted, Replanting, Budding, Wilting, etc.).  Each section also begins with thematic, artful doodles (courtesy of Soumbal Qureshi) in a style that will likely appeal to teen and tween readers.  The story is loosely based on the author's own experiences moving to the United States as a teenager and living in, you guessed it, Peachtree, GA.  According to the author's note, some of the details are straight from the author's own experience.It feels a bit like reading a someone's diary -- their innermost thoughts written right alongside their day-to-day activities.  The poems are the kind of poetry that you don't have to strain your brain to understand, which makes it perfect for middle grade readers.  

I read Unsettled cover-to-cover in one sitting and Nurah's story really tugged at my heart.  I appreciated that she didn't always say or do the right thing, which only made those moments when she (and others) stood up to bullies or reached out in friendship that much sweeter. It would make for a great tween book club pick as it covers many of the topics most kids worry about -- friends, crushes, and school -- but it also touches on a lot of more serious issues, like religious and cultural differences, bullying, racism, and domestic violence, in a way that feels natural, opens the door for further discussion, and encourage readers to be more accepting of others differences.   I will definitely be on the lookout for other Reem Faruqi books in the future.

My Rating: 4.5 Stars

For the Sensitive Reader:  Any sensitive material (regarding racism, bullying, and abuse) is non-graphic and shown in a negative light.

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