Life takes an unexpected turn for the worse for seventh grader Aafiyah Qamar, the Pakistani American protagonist of Reem Faruqi’s novel in verse, Golden Girl.
Until recently, Aafiyah’s life was golden. She’s close with her best friend, Zaina. She’s earned a spot on the school tennis team, and her family has plenty of money. She adores compiling facts from Weird But True! books published by National Geographic such as, “Most people hide their valuables in their sock drawers”—information that Aafiyah would be better off not knowing.
Aafiyah begins taking things that don’t belong to her by accident, but then she is lured by the thrill: “I borrow things, / sort of like a library book. / I usually bring them back, / except sometimes / I don’t.” The stakes with her “itchy fingers” get higher. First, she swipes Zaina’s pineapple-scented pink lip gloss, and later, her teacher Ms. Sullivan’s cherished rainbow catcher.
While Aafiyah struggles to manage her compulsion and her feelings of shame, a disgruntled employee falsely accuses her father of embezzlement, and he is detained in Dubai on the way home from a family trip. Meanwhile, Aafiyah’s grandfather has traveled from Pakistan to Atlanta to receive chemotherapy. Suddenly, both Aafiyah’s father’s and grandfather’s welfare are on the line, and her family’s finances are strained. Everything seems on the brink of spiraling out of control when Aafiyah hatches a harebrained scheme to help, but it leads to devastating consequences.
This skillfully imagined novel is immediately absorbing. Faruqi’s lilting lines have plenty to savor, but her pages turn quickly, drawing readers easily into Aafiyah’s story. In spare but carefully chosen words, Faruqi builds a complex drama. All of the relationships, from Aafiyah’s friendship with Zaina to her relationships with her parents, her grandfather and her fellow tennis players, ring with authenticity and emotion.
Faruqi portrays Aafiyah’s struggle with kleptomania exceptionally well, including her mother’s firm but supportive response, but Golden Girl also treats other subjects with nuance and care. When Aafiyah accompanies her grandfather to his chemotherapy infusions, Faruqi offers a realistic but sensitive and hopeful depiction of a serious illness, and her incorporation of the Qamars’ Muslim faith and Pakistani heritage is just as skilled. A helpful glossary and a recipe for Aafiyah’s aloo gosht, a goat curry, add sparkle to a book that’s already solid gold.
Faruqi is the author of several picture books, including Amira’s Picture Day and I Can Help, as well as a middle grade novel in verse, Unsettled. Golden Girl cements her place as one of the brightest rising stars in children’s literature.