Review: Here to Stay by Sara Farizan
Source: Hardcopy courtesy of Thomas Allen & Son. Thank you!
Publication: September 18, 2018 by Algonquin Books
What happens when a kid who’s flown under the radar for most of high school gets pulled off the bench to make the winning basket in a varsity playoff game? If his name is Bijan Majidi, life is suddenly high fives in the hallways and invitations to exclusive parties—along with an anonymous photo sent by a school cyberbully that makes Bijan look like a terrorist.
The administration says they’ll find and punish the culprit. Bijan wants to pretend it never happened. He’s not ashamed of his Middle Eastern heritage; he just doesn’t want to be a poster child for Islamophobia. Lots of classmates rally around Bijan. Others make it clear they don’t want him or anybody who looks like him at their school. But it’s not always easy to tell your enemies from your friends.
Here to Stay is a painfully honest, funny, authentic story about growing up, speaking out, and fighting prejudice.
“You’re the son of rich histories. You are from the places where numbers and language were born.”
“Nobody at Granger cares about that, Mom,” I said. “I don’t want to be the poster child for this!” To the kids at Granger, I looked like an extra for Claire Danes to chase down in some alley for information…To them, I looked like I didn’t belong at their school.
Sara Farizan, author of Tell Me Again How A Crush Should Feel and If You Could Be Mine, returns with her third young novel, the terrific contemporary YA title Here to Stay.
During a potentially season-ending basketball game, Bijan Majidi, a self-described “nonentity on loan from JV” is swapped in to play when a popular player on his team fouls out. As Bijan somewhat nervously goes out on the court, he surprises with some serious plays- one of which leads their team, the Granger Gunners, to defeat a competing prep school. Bijan becomes somewhat of an instant sports star at his elite school…but while his mom, closest friends, and some classmates and teammates are genuinely proud of Bijan, there are those who are seemingly jealous and spew hostility at Bijan. When Bijan becomes involved with a classmate’s petition to change the school mascot to one that represents nonviolent ideals- an act which angers key basketball team members and big donor contributors to the school- an email soon circulates out to the school population with a picture of Bijan Photoshopped on the head of a terrorist, proclaiming him as the school’s new mascot.
…something had something had shifted when that image appeared on my screen. Since that moment, I had felt the weight of somebody else’s living, throbbing, unimaginative hatred on my body. It sat like lead in my gut.
This act of hate emboldens those with racist attitudes toward Bijan (including a few select basketball teammates and classmates)- leading to horrific moments off the basketball court and on. While trying to keep his head down as much as possible and maintain his existing friendships, Bijan’s increasingly solid and attention-receiving basketball playing won’t let up the unwanted spotlight. The unsolved cyber hate crime, and the disturbing reaches of Islamophobia sit heavily over Bijan, his mom, his tight group of friends, and his deeply divided basketball team …until another cyber crime strikes a different target and erupts (exposes) even more bigotry at his school. Farizan deftly combines and manages weighty topics including identity, homophobia, and pushing back against racist tormentors in and around subjects like friendship upheavals, team sport chronicles, and potential romantic interests. Bijan’s first-person narrative is so well-done and compelling: self-deprecating, very funny yet wry, often tinged with sadness, and highlighted by remarkable moments of incisiveness.
“I’m a sixteen-year-old student, and I don’t have all the answers you want me to have.”
Overall, Here to Stay is simply a great novel. Sharply written, bittersweet, often funny and engrossing all the way through, featuring a stellar protagonist and strong cast of secondary characters. Sara Farizan’s Here to Stay is a perfect pick for readers who enjoy the work of authors such as Randy Ribay, Jason Reynolds, Kelly Loy Gilbert, or Kwame Alexander. You can read this terrific and insightful author interview via Kirkus Reviews, as well as a detailed cover reveal and interview with the author via Entertainment Weekly.
I received a copy of this title courtesy of Thomas Allen & Son in exchange for an honest review. All opinions and comments are my own.