Zara and Zeeshan, twin Muslim Pakistanian American siblings, love to spend time on their phone apps. Zara keeps a photo journal of different animal species she encounters and Zeeshan geeks out on space exploration facts by tuning in to NASA videos. While preparing for a family trip to Florida, a series of mishaps, jabbing insults, and mistaken interpretations deprives them of their phone privileges, stirring up heated resentment between the two. Bouts of sibling rivalry abound in Saving Sunshine, a heartfelt graphic novel written by Saadia Faruqi (Yasmin and Ali the Great series) and illustrated by Shazleen Khan.
From the moment their mom receives an invitation to accept an award at a medical conference in Key West, Florida, the fun begins. As they are packing, Zeeshan kicks over Zara’s neatly stacked pile of clothes. Upon arriving at the airport, he accidentally bumps into Zara’s luggage cart, causing her to trip over and fall. Their parents execute the ultimate punishment by confiscating their phones and demanding that they stick together, forcing them to work out their differences throughout the trip. After kayaking to a nearby island resort, Zara discovers a lone, ailing loggerhead turtle whom she names “Sunshine.” Little by little, the two team up to nurture it back to health, gaining a deeper understanding and respect for each other’s hobbies in the process.
Beyond the central sibling conflict, the twins also face microaggressions in various guises throughout the story. Classmates poke fun at Zeeshan’s name. In a flashback from sixth grade, Zara wears a hijab for the first time in school only to become the target of jeers from taunting classmates. They are frequently greeted with the question, “Where are you from?” At an airport security checkpoint, a security guard pulls their father aside for questioning. Their parents handle these discriminatory gestures with respect, aplomb, and resilience.
Charmingly sketched characters and scenic backgrounds fill the narrative panels rendered in a watercolor style complemented by soft pastels. Anecdotal flashbacks and memories colored in sepia tones add insight to the backstories of the siblings, elucidating their childhood escapades in some panels that spread out as a series of overlapping photos. Pop-up notifications containing factoids of the siblings’ specialized interests sporadically appear, enhancing the narrative flow of information. Overall, Faruqi incorporates elements of sibling rivalry, reconciliation, animal activism, and Islamophobia into the plot, making this story an enriching addition to middle-grade collections and reinforcing the enduring message of standing strong and true for oneself and others in solidarity.
By Saadia Faruqi
Art by Shazleen Khan
Macmillan First Second, 2023
Publisher Age Rating: 8-12
NFNT Age Recommendation: Middle Grade (7-11)
Creator Representation: Pakistani-American
Character Representation: Pakistani-American