Review of An Impossible Thing to Say

An Impossible Thing to Say An Impossible Thing to Say
by Arya Shahi
High School    Allida/HarperCollins    416 pp.
9/23    9780063248359    $19.99
e-book ed.  9780063248373    $10.99

In this verse novel set in 2001, tenth grader Omid Soltani isn’t comfortable in his own skin. As the child of Iranian immigrants living in Arizona, he feels foreign at school (especially in the post-9/11 climate), but never Persian enough with his family. When his grandparents arrive from Iran and he meets them in person for the first time, he feels “frozen in Farsi” with his stilted fluency, isolated from the very people with whom he most wants a connection. He finds a welcome distraction in being cast as Bottom in the school’s production of Shakespeare’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream, but gets the most laughs when he plays Bottom’s lines in his father’s accented English, mocking his own culture for a primarily white audience and underscoring why Shakespeare would create a comical, lovable character and “make him a monster” for entertainment. As Omid grows, he learns to find his voice in his own interpretation of Shakespeare and in rap music that uniquely expresses his experiences. Shahi’s poetic form sometimes mirrors the subject matter (a music playlist, a theatrical dialogue, a rap flow); there are many underline-worthy lines of free verse. An unpredictable development in the conclusion may have readers reaching for a tissue (and a comforting playlist). This is a compelling coming-of-age story about finding your own voice and holding on to hope in the face of uncertainty and doubt.

From the November/December 2023 issue of The Horn Book Magazine.

Julie Hakim Azzam

Julie Hakim Azzam is the assistant director of the MFA program in the School of Art at Carnegie Mellon University in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. She holds a PhD in literary and cultrual studies, with a specialization in comparative contemporary postcolonial literature from the Middle East and North Africa (MENA) and Southeast Asia. Her most recent work focuses on children's literature, stories about immigrants and refugees, and youth coping with disability.

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