Hi Reem, and welcome to Fast Forward Friday! I’m so happy to have a chance to connect with you today, but I loved your upcoming novel, UNSETTLED, which will be released on May 11th by HarperCollins. Could you give us a quick summary of the story, please?
Hi Kathie! I’m so glad you loved my book! You can see the summary on book ordering sites, but this is what I originally had in my query:
My #ownvoices middle grade verse novel, UNSETTLED, has a strong, female character and a poetic voice.
In my lyrical 14,100 word manuscript, Unsettled, Nurah reluctantly moves continents. In a new land, she sticks out for all the wrong reasons. At school, Nurah’s accent, floral print kurtas, and tea colored skin contribute to her eating lunch alone. All she wants is to fit in. If she blends in enough, will she make a friend? For now, all she has is her best friend brother Owais. In the water though, Nurah doesn’t want to blend: she wants to stand out and be just like her star athlete brother and win a swimming medal. However, when sibling rivalry gets in the way of swimming, she makes a split-second decision of betrayal that changes their fates and Nurah might risk losing the one friend she ever had…
How similar is Nurah’s story to your own journey to the United States at the age of 13?
I actually moved from Abu Dhabi, United Arab Emirates to the United States. However I’m Pakistani and wanted to reflect that experience of mine. I love Pakistan and visiting any chance I can get.
Like Nurah, I moved continents when I was 13 years old which I think is a pivotal age.
I don’t want to give away too many spoilers, but I would say 40% is loosely based on my life, 40% is pure fiction, and 20% is inspired by the experiences of others. I have an interesting family and immigration experience, so I am grateful that I didn’t have to imagine each story, but was able to draw on them from my mind.
Then I sorted all of the stories in a blender, mixed it together, and sprinkled it all up with fiction and a touch of drama.
It’s funny, my brothers were reading my book and were asking about specific anecdotes in my book and which of them did what, and when I told them specifics, they denied it so that must have been the fictional part!
In my author’s note, I touched on some specific experiences that my character and I both shared. There were more than just the author’s note. Maybe one day I’ll go through the book with a highlighter and highlight everything that was inspired by true events.
I found your writing voice so poetic and engaging. Did you always plan to write this story as a novel in verse?
Thank you Kathie! I had it in prose actually and when I sent an early excerpt to my agent at the time, she said it read a little like a novel in verse and was that what I had intended? I had totally not intended that, but eagerly made the swap and never looked back.
I have always loved reading novels in verse and checked out many more from the library and really immersed myself in that world.
I started out as a picture book author and found myself checking out many middle grade books from the library. However, I avoided writing middle grade because the word count intimidated me. I found writing picture books less intimidating. With a novel in verse, I found it more encouraging to attempt than prose. My original draft was in clunky prose, but when I made the swap to verse, I found the white space soothing and that the words could sing.
I also love the emotional punch that can be added at the end of each verse.
What’s one thing you’d like to share with our readers about your book that you haven’t been asked yet?
In my book, my character touches briefly on her Pakistani clothes. I would love for readers to know how vibrant the colors of our clothes are. You can also get a sense from our colorful book cover by Soumbal Qureshi and Molly Fehr that we love color.
I have the following excerpt of a verse that touches on it.
Nana has tailored
2 pockets even.
Cloth so soft
it feels like tissue.
But then I hear the whispers
that scratch like nails.
I pair the kurtas
with stiff jeans, not shalwars . . .
Why does she wear clothes
Why doesn’t she wear anything
I don’t know how some people
go through middle school
dressed like that.
The colors of my clothes
are no longer happy.
In Walmart, the only
that are loose
that I like
are in the women’s section.
No floral print.
No red piping.
Shirts rough like towels.
the colors of
crumpled litter on the beach.
Ugly faded brick.
Faded purple marker.
But I buy them anyway.
Like Nurah, when I moved here, I started to gravitate away from my colorful Pakistani kurtas to blend in and wore American clothes from Walmart that weren’t as vibrant. I love the colors in Pakistani clothes and feel like I wear them proudly more often today. Also, the American clothes I do wear now are brighter colors.
I would also like to add that all Muslims have different experiences. So when a reader reads my book, they should not assume that every Muslim is just like my character. My book is just one example of the many books about Muslim characters and hopefully one of many more to come.
I do hope that my book sheds a light on a Muslim girl who is proud to practice her faith.
What is your favorite part of the writing process?
My favorite part is when slivers of sentences slide into my mind.
Are you working on another writing project at the moment?
Yes! I’m always working on another writing project or trying to! I’m currently in the editing stages of my second verse novel. It’s got themes of gold jewelry, growing up, family, and high-stake decisions. It should be published next year – I’m awaiting a finalized title and edits. I can’t wait to share more about it.
I’m also in the polishing draft stages of a third verse novel. It also has themes of family and sports, yet is quite different from UNSETTLED.
Where can our readers go to find out more about you and your writing?
My blog which is www.ReemFaruqi.com or my Instagram or Twitter which is @ReemFaruqi .
Thank you so much, Reem, for chatting with me today. I can’t wait to add your book to my library’s collection and recommend it to young readers.
It was a pleasure to chat with you Kathie. I have read and loved middle grade books for so long; it is an honor to have a middle grade novel published soon. I cannot wait for your readers to read it, to enjoy it, and hope they can relate. Thank you to you and the #MGBookChat librarians and educators for all you do!
Reem Faruqi enjoys writing lyrical stories that reflect her own experiences. She is the award-winning children’s book author of LAILAH’S LUNCHBOX, a book based on her own experiences as a young Muslim girl immigrating to the United States. Her debut middle grade novel UNSETTLED will be published by HarperCollins in May 2021. Currently, she lives with her husband and three daughters in Atlanta. Reem spends her days trying to write, but instead gets distracted easily by her toddler, camera, and buttery sunlight.