Sadia wishes life in high school was as straightforward as a game of basketball.
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.
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|Age Range:||12 - 15 Years|
About the Author
Colleen Nelson is a teacher and an award-winning YA author whose previous novels include Blood Brothers and Finding Hope. She lives in Winnipeg.
Read an Excerpt
After three years of living in Winnipeg, the cold of a February morning still shocked me. My teeth ached from it as I shuffle-walked from Dad's car to the front doors of Laura Secord High School.
I got to my locker as Nazreen, my best friend, and the rest of the kids who took the bus stampeded through the front entrance. I was about to call out to her, but something in the way she darted past me — head down, feet moving quickly, as if she didn't want to be seen — made me stop. Weird, I thought. We'd been texting each other all weekend. Why would she ignore me?
"Hi, Sadia," Carmina said as she breezed past me. She didn't stop to talk, but headed toward the washroom, lugging her backpack. With a resigned sigh, I realized where Nazreen had been going and why she wanted to escape notice. My notice.
My fingertips were still numb with cold as I opened my locker and grabbed books for my morning classes. First stop: homeroom. Only grade nine students at LS High School have homeroom. I guess they thought we needed the extra attention. It didn't bother me. I liked my homeroom and I really liked my teacher, Mr. Letner, who taught our Global Issues and English classes.
When I walked into Class 9B, he was already at his desk typing on his computer. Mr. Letner was tall and skinny and had a beard, but was bald, which seemed kind of funny. Like, if he could grow hair on his face, why not his head? I'd been intimidated by him the first day of high school. He had a deep voice and towered over me. But I came to discover that he never yelled; he didn't have to. He was one of those teachers kids were quiet for because most of the time we wanted to hear what he had to say.
"Morning, Sadia! Have a good weekend?" I gave him a weak nod as I sat down at my desk, preoccupied about Nazreen. I knew why she'd gone to the washroom. It was to take off her hijab before class started.
"Everything okay?" he asked, zeroing in on me.
"Yeah," I answered, but anyone could tell things weren't okay. I have one of those faces that you can read even if you don't know the alphabet. Big, brown eyes, long lashes, and wide lips that I can squeeze and squish into a hundred different positions. Rubber lips, Dad calls them. I sunk lower in my seat and kept my eyes fixed on the desk ahead of me, corners of my lips turned down. I might even have sighed.
There was no point in talking about it to Mr. Letner; there was nothing he could do. Nazreen had mentioned de-jabbing a while ago. I'd assumed it was just talk, but then one day before winter break, she'd gone to the washroom with Carmina and come back without her head scarf. I'd stared at her long hair and uncovered head. She looked so bare. The hijab was distracting, she'd told me, and she needed to concentrate for the test we were having that morning. A hundred warnings rang in my head.
Since that day, she'd been taking the head scarf off more and more often. Egyptian, Nazreen had large, green eyes, wide cheekbones, and skin a shade darker than mine. She complained about her nose, saying it was too big and she wished it were straight and narrow like mine, but she was just being dramatic. Her nose was fine. Without her hijab, she'd toss her hair over her shoulder and throw looks at me that said I should ditch my hijab, too. I'd thought about it — how could I not? We went to a school where only a handful of girls wore hijab. It would be easy to look like everyone else.
But that wasn't how I'd been raised, and neither had Nazreen. Islam was clear: females, once they were old enough, should dress modestly. And for our families, that meant keeping everything but our faces, hands, and feet covered. I hoped de-jabbing was just a phase for her, something she was testing out.
I looked up as Nazreen walked into the class with Carmina. Today, not only had she taken off her hijab, she'd also changed out of the long tunic top she usually wore and put on a tight T-shirt. I recognized it as one of Carmina's; Hollister was splashed across the front in curvy writing. I kept my eyes down, trying to ignore her outfit. I could almost feel her waiting for me to say something, but I didn't want to give her the satisfaction. If she was de-jabbing for attention, she'd have to get it from someone else.
"Hey!" Carmina said, drawing the word out and flashing me a glossy-lipped smile. Carmina is Filipino and has dark hair that hangs straight and shiny; she's a shampoo commercial come to life. Even though she was aiding and abetting the de-jabbing, I wasn't mad at her; she didn't get why Nazreen changing out of her normal clothes was a big deal. But Nazreen did.
Mom had warned me about things like this. She'd sat me down before I started high school and told me that I might want to do things like Nazreen was doing now. But she said it was up to me to make the right choice. I'd nodded. She'd also said it can be hard living in a place like Canada where so many people have different beliefs, but that was why they had picked it as our new home — because Canada was a place that accepted differences.
We'd left Syria just before things went haywire. Most of our relatives had already moved to the U.K., so we'd gone there first and stayed with family while we waited for our Canadian visas to come through. The position Dad had accepted at the University of Manitoba meant we'd be moving to a place we knew nothing about.
When I thought back to those first months in Canada, it made me cringe. I didn't know anything compared to now. After the first day of school, my older brother, Aazim, had picked me up from school and held my hand on the walk home even though I was twelve and he was fifteen. I complained about missing my friends and living in a place where I couldn't understand what people said. His first day of school had probably been just as awkward as mine, but instead of complaining, he comforted me, reassuring me things would get better. He was right, of course, but there had been some difficult days at the beginning.
The transition for Dad had been easier. He'd learned English in the U.K. as a university student and spoke with a British accent that he was slowly losing the longer we lived in Canada. Mom's English wasn't as good as Dad's, but she worked at it every day, going to classes at the language centre and joining conversational English groups. She took it as a challenge to master a language that had nothing in common with Arabic. I knew it was her dream to work again.
In Syria, she'd been the head librarian at Damascus University. She and Dad would walk to work together after they saw us off to school. But in Canada, things changed. She became a stay-at-home mom, taking the bus to do her shopping and looking after our house. She called her parents and sisters often, FaceTiming them at their flats in England. When we went to the public library, she gazed longingly at the shelves of books, watching the librarians go about their work with hawkish interest.
Since we'd left Syria, I'd become more Canadian than I would have thought possible. With barely a trace of an accent, I was a top student. My memories of Syria were tucked in a shoebox under my bed, the connection to my home country fading year by year. I cast a quick glance at Nazreen. Carmina passed her a tube of pink lip gloss, which she smeared across her lips. She turned to me, her lips shining like they'd been lacquered. "What?" she asked. It was a challenge; I could see it in the arch of her eyebrow.
"Nothing," I replied, frowning at the thought of what her parents would do if they found out how she was dressing at school.
"Okay, everyone, get settled," Mr. Letner called. "'O Canada' is going to start in a minute." There was the usual foot dragging as people got to their seats and slapped binders onto desks.
The bell that signalled the start of morning classes rang and today's student announcer said, "Please stand for the singing of 'O Canada.'"
Beside me, Nazreen whispered, "It's Josh!" I gave her a quizzical look. "On the announcements," she explained, giddily. I had to bite my tongue. Since when was hearing Josh Jensen on the announcements a big deal? As the music started, Carmina gave Nazreen a conspiratorial smile that could only mean one thing.
It was news to me that Nazreen liked Josh. I mean, he was funny, smart, super-athletic, and cute. He had brown eyes and blond hair, shaved short on the sides and left longer on top so it swooped down over his forehead. Tons of girls had crushes on him; I saw them drooling over him all the time. But Nazreen and Josh had nothing in common. It would make sense if I had a crush on Josh, and if I was being honest, maybe I did a little. We both liked sports, had been the student council sports reps last year, and ran intramurals at our middle school. Watching Nazreen's bright-eyed smile as Josh spoke gave me an unexpected pang of jealousy. What if he liked her back? I took a deep breath and forced myself to relax. What did it matter? Neither of us could date him.
Josh made some announcements about upcoming school events and then said, "Tryouts for the Junior Varsity All-City Pre-Season Basketball Tournament start today in the gym at lunch. It's a co-ed team, so anyone in grade nine or ten is welcome to try out."
I perked up. Mr. Letner was coaching the tournament team this year and had given us a heads-up about tryouts. Making the co-ed team meant I would be a shoe-in for the school's JV girls team, even though I was only grade nine.
I was the only girl in hijab I knew who played basketball. I blamed my brother. When we moved into our house in Winnipeg, he spent hours outside shooting hoops. Mom got sick of me watching from the window and shooed me outside to join him. It wasn't just that I liked spending time with my brother, it was the swish of the net when a shot went in and the quick rhythm of the ball against the pavement. I liked being on my toes, anticipating Aazim's next move, like in a fast-moving chess game. I wasn't as good as Aazim, but I could do a crossover that rivalled his. I was quick and gave him a run for his money when we played one on one. My last birthday, Aazim got me a poster of my favourite player, Kyle Lowry of the Toronto Raptors, and Dad bought me a pair of real basketball shoes: black-and-turquoise high-tops with Michael Jordan's silhouette on the side.
When Josh walked into class after he'd finished the announcements, Nazreen tracked his progress down the aisle to his desk beside Allan. I didn't understand where her sudden interest in Josh had come from. It had practically sprung up overnight, and I wondered if he was the reason for the clothes and the lip gloss. Carmina had a crush on a guy named Daniel in grade ten who she talked about all the time, even though she'd never actually had a conversation with him. Carmina had always been more interested in boys than Nazreen and me, but lately, her obsession with having a boyfriend had reached a new high. I found it nauseating, but clearly Nazreen didn't. In fact, it looked like it had rubbed off on her.
As Nazreen watched Josh sit down, I read the word Mr. Letner had written on the board: Perspective.
"Anyone want to tell me what that word means?" he asked. A few kids were on their phones, not paying attention. He paused, staring at them until they realized and put them away.
"Like in art, it shows how near or far something is," Carmina said.
"You can lose it," Allan offered. "As in, 'I'm losing perspective.'" There were snickers from a few kids. Allan was Josh's best friend, but unlike Josh, Allan was a jerk and thought it was funny to make up rude nicknames for people and burp so loud he was sent to the office for disrupting class. Josh kept trying to assure me that underneath all the rude behaviour, Allan was a good guy, but I didn't see it.
Mr. Letner gave a reluctant nod, but I could tell he was looking for something else. He narrowed his eyes at us, as if he could send the answer telepathically.
"Point of view," Riley said quietly. He sat at the back and didn't usually say much, not because he wasn't smart, he was just really shy.
"Right!" Mr. Letner jumped off the table he was perched on and went to his computer. "Understanding what perspective is will be essential to completing this new project."
There were a few groans, but not from me. Good, I thought, something to take my mind off Nazreen and the smell of her cherry lip gloss. Mr. Letner turned on the Smartboard at the front of the class and a website appeared. "'If You Give a Kid a Camera,'" he read. "Anyone heard of this before?" No one put up their hand. "Anyone heard of the picture book If You Give a Mouse a Cookie? Your parents might have read it to you when you were little." I hadn't, but when I looked around the room, a lot of kids had their hands up.
Mr. Letner went to his desk and picked up a book with a mouse in overalls on the cover. "It's one of my kid's favourites," he said. "'If you give a mouse a cookie, he's going to ask for a glass of —'" He broke off and a bunch of kids finished the sentence with "Milk." Mr. Letner turned the page. "'If you give a mouse some milk, he'll probably ask you for a —'"
"Straw." Mr. Letner nodded and put the book on his desk. "You get the idea."
I didn't get it. I frowned at him. I wanted him to explain about the book! How would I understand the assignment if I didn't know what everyone else did!
Mr. Letner pointed to the Smartboard. "I want to show you this project that a teacher started in India. She wanted to give kids living in poverty a chance to tell their stories. It's called If You Give a Kid a Camera. What do you think would happen if you got cameras?"
"Duh, we'd take pictures?" Allan suggested sarcastically.
"Hopefully," Mr. Letner replied, frowning at Allan's rudeness. "And if you take pictures —"
"We'll want to share them?"
"And if you share them ..."
There was a pause as everyone thought about it.
"We'll show people how we see the world." This time the answer came from Josh.
"Yes!" Sometimes Mr. Letner put his finger to his nose and pointed at the person who gave the right answer. He did this for Josh, which made Josh grin. "Perspective! Understanding global issues, like poverty and war and the environment, is all about perspective. The If You Give a Kid a Camera project was such a success in India that it has spread to other developing countries: Brazil, Sudan, Thailand. Kids around the world were empowered to share their stories through their photos." He gave a dramatic pause and looked out at all of us, then pulled a hard plastic case from under his desk. "I've got twenty-eight digital cameras for you to use for the next few weeks. It's going to be a bit of an experiment to see what images you capture. I want you to take photos of the things that matter to you, moments that you want to share with us. Not posed photos, but real life. I want you to notice things you haven't noticed before, take a fresh look at things, and present photos that show life from your perspective."
There was a chorus of complaints.
"We just got a big assignment in bio, too."
"How many marks is it worth?"
Mr. Letner didn't let anybody derail him. He moved around the class handing out the outline for the project. The title in bold letters read: "If You Give a Kid a Camera." The marking guide was below. It was worth 40 percent of our final grade! I raised my eyebrows at him and pointed it out to Nazreen.
"Can't we just use our phones?" Carmina asked. She was addicted to Instagram and Snapchat.
"No." Mr. Letner shook his head. "And try not to let this become a selfie bonanza. There is more to photograph in the world than just your faces." He sort of grimaced when he said the last part. "I want all the photos saved on the memory card inside the camera." He pulled a square piece of plastic out of one of the cameras and held it up.
Mr. Letner changed the screen from the home page of If You Give a Kid a Camera to show us the young photographers and the pictures they'd taken. We all sat silently as he clicked through. Based on what we'd discussed in Global Issues about poverty in developing countries, I expected to see kids in shacks or playing in a garbage pile or standing by a well with a leaky tap.
But the photos that flashed on the screen showed kids playing soccer and splashing in puddles. There were some pictures of kids with invented toys and playing in a band of instruments created out of garbage. In most of the pictures, the kids were laughing. Despite the living conditions, the photographers focused on the joy in their lives, not the hardship.
Mr. Letner brought the screen back to the home page. "The kids who got the cameras showed us what life was like from their perspective. They used it as a communication tool, and as we know, a lot of global issues can be solved through understanding."
"I can't believe you're trusting us with cameras," Zander said.
Excerpted from "Sadia"
Copyright © 2018 Colleen Nelson.
Excerpted by permission of Dundurn Press.
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