ARC Review | Sadia By Colleen Nelson

sadia

Title: Sadia

Author: Colleen Nelson

Publisher: Dundurn

Publication Date: February 27th 2018

Rating: 🌟 🌟

Goodreads | Amazon UK | Book Depository


Fifteen-year-old Sadia Ahmadi is passionate about one thing: basketball. Her best friend Mariam, on the other hand, wants to get noticed by the popular crowd and has started de-jabbing, removing her hijab, at school every morning. Sadia’s mom had warned her that navigating high school could be tricky. As much as she hates to admit it, her mom was right.

When tryouts for an elite basketball team are announced, Sadia jumps at the opportunity. Her talent speaks for itself. Her head scarf, on the other hand, is a problem; especially when a discriminatory rule means she has to choose between removing her hijab and not playing. Mariam, Sadia’s parents, and her teammates all have different opinions about what she should do. But it is Sadia who has to find the courage to stand up for herself and fight for what is right — on and off the court.


Thank you to the publisher and NetGalley for providing me with an advance reading copy in exchange for an honest review!

Despite my initial excitement about seeing a hijabi on the cover of a book about a teenage Muslim basketball player, I was always very conscious of the fact that Sadia is written by a non-Muslim author. And it doesn’t just focus on one Muslim character, which meant 1) there was a lot that could have gone wrong and 2) there was a lot that actually did.

Though the characters here are in ninth grade, the novel read like it was targeted at a much younger audience – not quite middle grade but not quite young adult either. The opening was incredibly descriptive, where the appearance and character of every student in Sadia’s class was defined. We find out that Sadia is Syrian, Nazreen is Egyptian and Carmina is Filipino, but we rarely hear of how this affects their experiences as minority teenagers in Canada. The multiplicity of personalities in their Global Studies class (the only class they attend in the entire book!) was, however, well presented. I also enjoyed the exploration of social issues through Mr Letner’s ‘If You Give A Kid A Camera’ project, with the additional passion projects really capturing the message of hopefulness which I believe the novel was trying to portray.

“I HATE THAT THERE AREN’T ANY BOOKS WITH CHARACTERS WHO LOOK LIKE ME.”

The basketball element was also one I really enjoyed. With the likes of Ibtihaj Muhammad paving the way for hijab-wearing Muslim women in the real-life sporting world, it was refreshing to read about Sadia, her passion for basketball and her parents’ support in her decision to play.

However, whilst it’s important to acknowledge and address the rules and regulations that may deny Muslim women from playing sports in hijab, I wanted to read a book about a hijabi basketball player where the emphasis wasn’t on how the headscarf hindered her performance. Before the tournament discrimination even comes into play, Sadia frequently considers how much easier it would be to play the game without hijab. At one point, the loose end of her headscarf shoots up and obscures her vision, resulting in an elbow to her face and I just can’t even comprehend this happening. Sure, hijab can present itself as a safety issue in many scenarios but it doesn’t render you blind unless you accidentally stab your eyes with the pins that hold it in place.

Furthermore, Sadia and Nazreen’s friendship appears to be heavily dependent on both girls wearing hijab since Sadia strongly believes Nazreen’s ‘de-jabbing’ is the reason they’re drifting apart. The book relies on many problematic and stereotypical views of hijab that can only stem from someone who’s never worn one. The author tries to depict hijab as a choice through Sadia’s conflicted opinion on whether or not to remove hers, yet she also implies that it was a decision made by Sadia’s parents on her behalf: “Mom and Dad had agreed I’d start wearing hijab when I turned 13.” Furthermore, Sadia’s failed attempts at convincing Nazreen to reconsider ‘de-jabbing’ result in even more problematic ideologies: “I wasn’t her parent. It wasn’t up to me to force modesty on her.” At this point, I wasn’t sure what the author was trying to do or say as it felt incredibly contradictory.

The plot of the book was also lacking. To sum it up: a group of students take a class with a teacher and then that same teacher coaches that same group of students to play basketball at lunchtime. Eventually, they compete in a tournament where a chorus of “Let her play!” (which was heart-warming) easily overrides the discriminatory rules that prevent Sadia from competing in her hijab (which was unrealistic.)

“KIND OF IRONIC THAT THE THING THEY FOUGHT FOR WAS THE SAME THING THAT WOULD KEEP ME FROM CELEBRATING WITH THEM.”

Overall, this book was disappointing, and somewhat messy. It equates hijab with being Muslim, which is definitely not the case. And it equates hijab to maintaining friendships, which could not be further from the truth. There are some good elements, but there are also other elements – such as Amira’s arrival as a Syrian refugee – that could have been explored much further. Ultimately, despite the research the author may have put into writing this book, there is so much more that needed to be done.

6 thoughts on “ARC Review | Sadia By Colleen Nelson

  1. This is a really great review! also are there not sports hijabs? I’m so confused as to why a scene showing the hijab impacting her actual playing would be included.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Also I’m sure you can get sports-friendly hijabs so it dosen’t get flung in your face? i saw this on netgalley but I saw on twitter the WHITE NON MUSLIM author talk about her struggles publishing a diverse book. WHAT THE FRICK. definitely wont be reading this.

    Liked by 2 people

  3. Great review!
    Even though I haven’t read it, I completely agree with everything you’ve said. It’s pretty impossible for a non-muslim author to write a relatable, realistic and accurate book with a muslim protagonist because you can’t possibly nail it unless you’ve actually and properly experienced it.
    I’m not sure whether hijab will actually hinder performance with basketball though. Sure, abaya/jilbab may, but not hijab, since it’s just around the head and you’ll still wear the uniform so you’ll be able to run around, dribble, etc. It sounds very unrealistic for a hijab to get into someone’s face. Like on the cover, if you look at that hijab, it doesn’t look too realistic at all, it might be if you did your hijab in a certain way where there is a long side at the front and as you were running this flew up into your face, but that should have been tucked in, like that’s common sense, right?
    I don’t even think it makes much of a difference if you wear hijab while playing basketball, unless you get hot. Otherwise, it might even be a better alternative because it keeps the hair from your face and hence interrupting/distracting you from the game in having to bat away loose strands of hair.
    Also, with Muslim girls, friendships don’t necessarily depend on whether your friend is as “Islamic” as you are or not. I do understand that your friends can heavily influence the way you behave, but I have many friends who don’t wear hijab, who are Muslim and really great, lovely girls whom I can have some really productive and beneficial conversations with. We’ve talked about wearing hijab, but I have in no way forced her or told her to wear it, at all, or even scolded them, never mind putting off the friendship because of that.
    I agree with you, I don’t think the plot is strong enough to pull off a book, and it was rather unrealistic anyway. However, that aside, it may have been a good side story to a bigger picture.

    Liked by 1 person

    • These are my thoughts exactly! I didn’t make the connection to the cover but I definitely agree with you, since I wear mine with a loose end that gets blown in my face by the wind. If I was playing sports, I would obviously tuck it in. 🤦 The cover may just be illustrating the outfit her friend eventually sews using ‘breathable’ material, which I didn’t mention in my review, but that’s not even the point. You’ve pretty much nailed everything I was thinking without having read the book! 😂

      Liked by 1 person

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