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.
Saving Sunshine By Saadia Faruqi Art by Shazleen Khan Macmillan First Second, 2023 ISBN: 9781250793805
Publisher Age Rating: 8-12 NFNT Age Recommendation: Middle Grade (7-11)
Creator Representation: Pakistani-American Character Representation: Pakistani-American
Kamala Khan’s keeping it together. Sure, she’s got high school, family obligations, moderator duties on her favorite site, updating her fan fiction, and Avengers training. She might be falling asleep during her classes and her body does keep randomly reshaping itself. But trust her, she’s got this.
Ms. Marvel: Stretched Thin, written by Nadia Shammas and art by Nabi H. Ali, is a stand-alone middle grade graphic novel from Scholastic Graphix about Jersey City’s resident teen superhero. It focuses on the pressures of being both a teenage Muslim Pakistani-American girl and one of the younger members of the Avengers. The story begins less than a year after the Terrigen Mist, the event that gave her the power to shapeshift.
Kamala is still learning how to navigate her body’s ability to embiggen and her secret identity as Ms. Marvel. She trains at Avengers Tower in Manhattan with fellow teen superheroes Squirrel Girl and Spider-Man under the one and only Iron Man; together, they’re Team Awesome Next-Gen Superheroes. In her regular life, she’s got her best friends Nakia and Bruno, as well as her increasingly worried parents on her case. She’s messing up at Avengers training, she’s napping through her entire school day, and one of her hands keeps randomly turning into a baby sized hand. At one point, she is literally stretched thin, as Nakia points out to her.
At least Kamala has babysitting her nephew Malik mostly under control, thanks to a weird rechargeable action figure one of her fellow website mods sent her. It might not hold a charge very long but it keeps him occupied while she updates her latest fanfic, the one she’s been getting lots of positive comments on. Things are somewhat more manageable until, while at an important party with her family, Malik’s new favorite toy turns out to be much more than just some random toy. Suddenly, on top of everything else going on in her already strained life, Kamala must focus on keeping her Ms. Marvel identity under wraps and protecting the people around her.
Throughout the book, Kamala faces the reality of being an overworked teenager. The stress starts to manifest in her physically, due to her sometimes uncontrollable ability to shapeshift. Her parents are brushed to the side and she hides in her bedroom, behind her computer screen, away from her family. She begins to recognize the impact this is having on their relationship and it seems like every conversation ends with someone’s feelings getting hurt. Kamala realizes her parents’ stress is actually out of concern and love for her and maybe she hasn’t been the daughter she’d like to be..
Kamala Khan is scheduled to make her official debut into the Marvel Cinematic Universe in late 2021 so be prepared for readers looking for more Ms. Marvel content. Ms. Marvel: Stretched Thin is a great introduction to the character and one only needs a basic idea of the Marvel universe to enjoy the story. The art is perfectly suited to the story being told, including slight changes in the color palette when the action ramps up. The shapeshifting scenes and the character’s excellent facial expressions will make readers laugh.
Readers who enjoy middle grade Marvel books like Miles Morales: Shock Waves and the Marvel: Avengers Assembly series will get to see some familiar faces and get to know Kamala Khan, Ms. Marvel herself.
Ms. Marvel: Stretched Thin By Nadia Shammas Art by Nabi H. Ali Scholastic GRAPHIX, 2021 ISBN: 9781338722581
Publisher Age Rating: 8-12
NFNT Age Recommendation: Middle Grade (7-11), Tween (10-13) Character Representation: Pakistani-American, Muslim