Xolo Score 4.5/5
Tagging Freedom by Rhonda Roumani is a thought-provoking novel that delves into the intricate layers of identity, youth activism, and the transformative power of art. Set against the beginnings of the Syrian Revolution, the novel alternates points of view between seventh-grade Syrian American Samira and her cousin Kareem living in Damascus. Samira lives in the small town of Allansdale, Massachusetts, where she desperately wants to fit in with the cool crowd and use her artistic talent for fonts and letters to become a member of the Spirit Squad. The equally artistic Kareem and his band of socially conscious friends try to participate in the growing tensions between Syrians and their government by spray painting pro-revolution graffiti. For his safety, Kareem's parents send him to live with Samira and her family. The cousins struggle to understand each other and work to bridge a divide that seems too emotional and personal to fix.
*** SPOILERS AHEAD ***
Roumani tackles identity, prejudice, and the struggle for individuality with sensitivity and nuance. While Samira and Kareem struggle to adapt to their new realities, the reader gets an expansive insight into the complexities of being Syrian raised in the States and how those experiences differ from someone who moves at an older age. Even though Samira and Kareem are family, they experience and handle microaggressions, bullying, and Islamophobia differently. Initially, they are quick to judge each other, but over time, their love and compassion for each other put their situations into perspective. Both cousins ultimately understand that standing up for yourself and your beliefs is best done with a community ready to uplift you.
One of the novel's strengths lies in its ability to focus the story on the Syrian Revolution through a familial lens without over-explaining its details to the reader. Roumani integrates social commentary into the plot through the cousins' Youth Art Activism. Both Samira and Kareem see their art as a tool of empowerment and disruption. Although it creates tension and conflict between friends, family, and community members, they see the value in creating that discomfort to create lasting change. Their social movement is never undermined or belittled because of their age to hopefully inspire younger readers to step into their power.
The spark of the Syrian Revolution unifies two cousins and their love for art as an essential tool of disruption and self-expression.
To what extent are there BIPOC leading characters or perspectives?
How well does the author avoid writing BIPOC experiences through the white gaze?
To what extent does the author challenge white-centered beliefs?
How well does the book explore nuances between intersectional identities?