Arab Teens in YA Literature and Nonfiction

April is Arab-American History Month, and it’s August! But there’s no better time to promote diverse books than ALL THE TIME!, so here’s a list of eight great titles featuring Arab teens. Some are Muslim; some aren’t. Included in the list are a memoir, graphic novel, short stories and fiction. Something for everyone!

Saints and Misfits by S.K. Ali (2017)

Janna is a hijab-wearing teen with a secular Indian father and a Muslim mother. Her whole life is torn between two worlds. She competes in the Islamic Quiz Bowl, but crushes hard on non-Muslim Jeremy. And she knows the terrible truth about the “model” Muslim boy, admired by her community, who memorizes the Qur’an but is really a monster.

Ronit & Jamil by Pamela Laskin (2017)

In this verse retelling of Shakespeare’s Romeo & Juliet, Ronit is an Israeli girl who falls for a Palestinian boy, Jamil. Though their fathers do business together, their relationship is strictly professional, and they wouldn’t dream of their children becoming friends, let alone falling in love. Though they inhabit different worlds on either side of the concrete barrier that divides them, the two are drawn to one another.

Balcony on the Moon: Coming of Age in Palestine by Ibtisam Barakat (2016)

This memoir picks up where Barakat’s first, Tasting the Sky, leaves off. As the title notes, Barakat grew up in Palestine (she now lives in Missouri) in the 70s and 80s, a politically tumultuous time. Against the backdrop of this turmoil, Barakat writes about her day-to-day life and dreams of becoming a writer.

Out of Nowhere by Maria Padian (2013)

The resettlement of Somali refugees to the mostly white residents of Enniston, ME is causing conflict. Residents complain that their tax dollars are going to foreigners. Tom, the captain of the soccer team, has seen some of the teenaged refugees kicking the ball around. All he sees is potential – to recruit the new students and build a better team. What seemed like a great idea is starting to cause problems with players and spectators alike, fueling ill feelings toward the new residents. Inspired by the true story of a town in Maine.

A Game For Swallows: To Die, To Leave, To Return by Zeina Abirached (2012)

1981: Lebanon. A civil war rages. Beirut is divided in two. Zeina lives with her family on the Christian side of the city. After visiting the other side of the city, Zeina’s parents fail to return home, and she and her brother must fend for themselves, with the help of some caring neighbors, unsure sure of the fate of their mom and dad.

Santa Claus in Baghdad and Other Stories About Teens in the Arab World by Elsa Marston (2008)

Though an older title, this one makes the list because it includes short stories set throughout the Arab world, including Iraq, Tunisia, Egypt, Lebanon, Syria, Jordan, the West Bank and Palestine, giving the reader a sense of the variety of Arab cultures. Marston has studied and traveled extensively in the Middle East, partly due to her personal interest, but also because her late husband was a Lebanese political scientist whose work centered on Arab cultures.

The Shepherd’s Granddaughter by Anne Laurel Carter (2008)

Amani has always dreamed of becoming a shepherd, like her grandfather. When she learns that the Israelis are planning to build a settlement on the family land in Palestine she is devastated. Her father and brother are prepared for a militant response, but help may just come from the most unexpected of places.

Does My Head Look Big In This? by Randa Abdel-Fattah (2003)

You’ve probably heard of this one, as it seems to make every list of YA fiction featuring Muslim or Arab characters, but I figured the list wouldn’t be complete without it. Sixteen-year-old Australian teen Amal, who is Muslim and whose family comes from Palestine, decides to begin wearing the hijab full-time – and everyone seems to have an opinion about it. In turns serious and humorous, it is a refreshingly honest look at a contemporary teen dealing with questions about her identity and whether one can stay true to her values and make it through high school.

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