Summary: Yusuf Azeem Is Not a Hero
Yusuf Azeem is not a hero like his dad who talked down a gun man in their small-town A-Z Dollar Store. But his dad’s heroism doesn’t prevent him from getting worsening hateful notes in his locker telling him to “Go Home.” Yusuf and his friend Danial had expected that this would be their year — their entry into middle school and a chance to compete in a robotics contest. However, when some of the townspeople, including a group called the Patriot Sons try to stop the construction of their town’s mosque and begin to target Yusuf and other Muslims in the community, they are forced to take a stand.
This story is set in 2021, but Yusuf receives his uncle’s journal from when he was 12 in 2001, so readers get a glimpse at the events of 9/11 and their impact 20 years after. I liked seeing how Yusuf’s life and feelings often intersected with his uncle’s. Faruqi is good at writing different kinds of Muslims. Yusuf’s mother was born and raised in the US and does not use a hijab, but other Muslim women in his life do. Still, Yusuf’s parents are religious and never want their kids to miss Sunday school.
I also enjoyed the male friendships in this story, both between Yusuf and his longtime best friend, Danial and the new friendships he finds throughout the story. Robotics and STEM also play a major role in this story as Yusuf joins a robotics club and also creates video games for his sister. Yusuf and his sister have a sweet relationship, and she also makes for solid asthma representation (something I wish I saw more of in middle grade).
Finally, most of this story is about the Islamophobia Yusuf and the Muslim community face in their small town. As with any kind of prejudice, it’s interesting to see where it begins, how people’s feelings can change over time, and what others can do to be allies.
Overall: Yusuf Azeem Is Not a Hero
Yusuf Azeem Is Not a Hero is a poignant look at the impact of 9/11 on Muslim communities in America. This book encourages self-examination and delves into ways to deal with prejudice around us. Alternating between past (2001) and present (2021), with mentions of the COVID-19 pandemic, this realistic middle grade book is perfect for helping kids make sense of 9/11. Bonus points for healthy male friendships and a STEM-loving protagonist.