Identity crises have long been a staple of teen stories and Huda Fahmy’s debut YA graphic novel gives us a fresh take on trying to find out who you are and where you fit in. While fans of Fahmy’s autobiographical webcomics and previous books, Yes, I’m Hot in This and That Can be Arranged, will recognize some of her family members, this story is fiction inspired by her high school years.
Huda’s family moves to Deerborn, Michigan, an area with a large Muslim population to get beyond the troubles one of Huda’s older sisters encountered in school. Huda realizes she can’t rely on her identity as “hijabi girl” anymore. As she takes stock of her interests, tries new things, and examines the teens she hangs out with in school, an easy identity continues to evade her. When the school overreacts to a student bringing a homemade clock to school Huda is reminded that in addition to finding herself she has to fight off the prejudice heaped on Muslims in America.
Fahmy’s writing brings her usual brand of zippy humor tinged with self deprecation and candid vulnerability, perfect for tackling teen subjects from getting your period in class to asking out a boy to facing bigotry from a teacher. She reminds readers in the beginning that she’s telling the story of one Muslim teenage girl, not all Muslim teenage girls. As she moves among her academic-focused family full of sisters, Muslim girl classmates with a variety of interests, and begins going to halaqa, a group focusing on Islamic studies, she shows readers a diverse world of Muslim women and their ideals, a subject too many people have too narrow a view of. Current and past teens (like myself) will laugh or cringe in familiarity with Huda throughout the story. Her mother’s constant support and suspicion are a great running thread.
The visual format of Huda F Are You? makes it immediately clear that Huda cannot be contained. It’s a messy story about finding your identity and the vibrant, cartoonish art often takes up the whole page, no panels, no margins. There’s a complete break with the webcomic strip format daily Fahmy readers are familiar with. Her complex visual play with panel size and placement introduces a great sense of energy and motion. It feels like the jumble of high school life. Full page splashes often establish settings with comparatively lush backgrounds to carry over for paneled scenes that follow with mostly blank backgrounds. The use of color is spare and flat in most character interactions but features splashes of brightness and texture at just the right moments to land a gross event, such as a wave of menstrual blood. Huda’s family and school feature a wide variety of skin tones. Every graphic tool is used for maximum expressive impact, giving a lot of life to the simple drawing style. It fits in next to Raina Telgemeier’s style but is its own thing.
I am unfortunately writing this review when a vocal minority of people are trying to get stories that show the diverse experiences of American youth thrown out of schools. I haven’t seen Huda F Are You? join this list, but since it makes clear the impact of Islamophobia in a high school I wouldn’t be surprised to see it targeted. Teens (and tweens) should read this because it’s hilarious and true to what many teens experience as they test out their identities, and also because it centers strong, smart Muslim girls. It shows the prejudice they face in everyday casual situations and in bigger institutions.
Huda’s age and concerns in the story will place this in the teen section over juvenile, but most middle school readers can enjoy it as well and it should have a place in middle school library collections. I’ve had girls that young coming to the info desk for Fahmy’s other collections for the last couple of years. Readers who’ve aged up from middle grade realistic school stories will love this book, in particular there are a lot of parallels to New Kid. I’d really just like to hand this one to everyone that walks into the library, it’s a fun read and it makes you think about high school from a perspective that doesn’t have a lot of representation in the media in general.
Huda F are You?
By Huda Fahmy
Dial Books, 2021
Publisher Age Rating: YA
NFNT Age Recommendation: Teen (13-16), Tween (10-13)
Creator Representation: Muslim, Character Representation: Muslim ,