Jasmine Zumideh Needs a Win by Susan Azim Boyer (336 pages)
Jasmine’s White Lie Quickly Snowballs in Jasmine Zumideh Needs a Win
Jasmine Zumideh is looking to close out the 1970s by getting out of her boring suburb in Southern California. She heads to NYU, her dream school, to study journalism. While there, she crushes her classes and works hard to find new and captivating ways to cover the music scene–both local and nationwide. But when her counselor says she needs something “extra” on her application to help her stand out, she panics and announces that she’ll be running for senior class president. To make matters worse, she puts president-elect on her application. Working in her favor, though, is the fact that her opponent has a pretty rigid platform that isn’t very popular with the student body.
However, circumstances quickly devolve when the Iranian Hostage Crisis begins, taking over the news circuit and even becoming a hot topic in the halls of her school. Jasmine’s opponent, Gerald, takes the low-road and uses Jasmine’s Iranian heritage against her, capitalizing on the ignorance and xenophobia of some of their classmates. As Jasmine tries to distance herself from her heritage, her younger brother Ali is loudly advocating for Iran. Jasmine now has to grapple with how she wants her heritage to function as part of her identity, while also still trying to win the election so that the lie on her application can become the truth.
A Realistic Protagonist to Route For
While this story is set about 40 years ago, the issues Jasmine faces, and her reactions, are relevant to modern readers. Even considering her white lie, Jasmine means well and is working hard to achieve her goals. Because of that, seeing Gerald take advantage of the inherent racism of some of their classmates is genuinely upsetting.
The struggle of trying to take the high road when your opponents go low is certainly timely, and this certainly isn’t the only time we’ve seen Americans display xenophobia or racism toward citizens of Middle Eastern descent. Jasmine’s struggle with the sometimes-conflicting aspects of her identity are specific to her, but also shed light on the struggles that many young people experience. The story is well-paced and the characters are well-developed, which makes this book one you won’t want to put down.
The Bottom Line: 4/5 stars
Jasmine is hardworking, headstrong, and earnest–qualities that make her immediately likeable. But she also makes some decisions that are questionable, which makes her more relatable. She’s certainly a character readers will root for, but she’s a more realistic protagonist than in other stories.
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Rachel Gomes is a 30-something high school English teacher who lives with her high school sweetheart-turned-husband and their son. Rachel is a voracious reader who loves to learn and has her doctorate in Curriculum and Instruction. She’s happiest listening to podcasts and talking to friends about the latest news in nerd culture.
Favourite book: Don’t make me choose between A Song of Ice and Fire and Harry Potter
Favourite brunch spot: The Farmer’s Table