Golden Girl by Reem Faruqi, 336 pages, Can be read in about two hours depending on your speed, Middle Grade
“Irony. The doctor said to keep an eye on my hearing loss. Shouldn’t he have said ear?”Aafiyah, p. 40
(Thanks to Gayatri Sethi for putting this book on my radar!)
Full disclosure: I don’t really “do” poetry, so I was a little nervous when I learned this was a novel told in verse. But if every novel uses verse as cleverly as Faruqi does, this is a type of fictional writing I can totally get behind.
Second disclosure: This is the book that has confirmed that I am turning into capital A Auntie. I really wanted to reach into the pages, grab Connor by his shirt collar, and tell him to stop being that guy. And then I wanted to turn around and hug Aafiyah and tell her that even though he’s cute, he’s trash, and she can do better.
Golden Girl was an unexpected read for many reasons. First, the main character suffers from kleptomania—an illness I didn’t even know existed until adulthood. Second, as I mentioned above, it’s told in verse. And third, it’s a visual book. By that I mean Faruqi clearly had a chat with the book formatter to ensure that you read certain words a specific way. Combined, these elements make for a very interesting and poignant read. Bonus, this book is also really punny.
Aafiyah has a problem. She likes to steal—I mean, borrow—things. She does usually return them, eventually. But she simply can’t help taking the things she wants without asking. The story is told solely from Aafiyah’s point of view, and we get lots of interesting insights into her as a character and her kleptomania. I particularly liked the section where she explains why she borrows the way she does.
It’s also interesting to read her rationalize a solution that at the time, I’m sure I would have thought completely logical, but as an adult, I know it’s completely absurd. I don’t want to spoil the plot, but let’s just say it’s very much a “bless your heart” plan. Still at the end of the day, you can’t help but love Aafiyah. She’s clever (even if not always sensible), loves her family, and just wants to be a “normal” 7th-grader (whatever normal means).
Throughout the book, Faruqi peppers in “Weird but true!” facts and links them to the plot. I absolutely loved this. The facts were fascinating! And they added a nice little twist to what was happening in the story. I was actually a little amazed at how well the facts and plot points lined up. That is a level of creative writing not many can achieve. And as someone who grew up in the Atlanta suburbs, I got a little nostalgic reading all of the ATL locations.
I also really appreciated that the focus was on something like kleptomania instead of the racist microaggressions that could have been included (like someone making fun of her lunch). Discussing that racism is needed and I’m glad so many write about it, but it was also nice to take a break from it and have Aafiyah’s “problem” be based on something else.