REVIEW: ‘Piece by Piece: The Story Of Nisrin’s Hijab’

Reading Time: 3 minutes

Piece by Piece The Story Of Nisrin’s Hijab - But Why Tho

Priya Huq is a Bangladeshi-American cartoonist from Austin, Texas, who enjoys working in water-based media. There are several graphic novel debuts happening as the year is ending and this one is another favorite of mine. Her debut graphic novel Piece by Piece: The Story of Nisrin’s Hijab is being published through Amulet Books which is an imprint of Abram’s Books. Huq is responsible for the text and illustrations while Charlotte Greenbaum served as editor for the book. Marie Oishi served as Managing Editor while Erin Vanderveer and Kay Petronio worked as the Production Manager and Designer, respectfully.

This extraordinary coming-of-age tale about a teenage girl learning to overcome the trauma in her life along with the intergenerational trauma that her family carries is an emotional and heartfelt journey that I felt so honored to be able to read. The main character of this book is Nisrin, a 13-year-old Bangladeshi-American girl living in Milwaukie, Oregon in the year 2002. Eighth grade is wrapping up and she’s all set to end her day on a major high after giving a well-received presentation for World Culture Day at school about Bangladesh while wearing a traditional cultural dress. Yet walking home, she unfortunately finds herself the victim of a hate crime when a man violently attacks her for wearing a headscarf.

As a lover of graphic novels, I can still say that it is not often that I open one up that centers on a darker-skinned Bangladeshi–American girl in the early 2000s. In actuality, I can’t point out too many comics and graphic novels for children that center on young protagonists experiencing the world as a Brown-skinned person in America post-September 11, 2001. Nor can I list children’s media that details the struggles and triumphs of wearers of not just ornas but hijabs as well. Piece by Piece: The Story of Nisrin’s Hijab is a layered story of Nisrin going from being a victim of a hate crime to not just recovering in a world that she finds to be harsh, but stumbling to recover, heal, and find her voice and agency.

One of those decisions of her own making is to cover her head, the part of her body that was violated, with a hijab, which already comes with its own target. It is a decision that alienates her, even from the people who love her the most, and further isolates her at the new school she transfers to. Yet she presses on—after therapy, after unhelpful talk about her at family gatherings, after triggering words and actions by people everywhere, especially at school, from kids and grown-ups alike. The narrative places you in the front seat to see just how hard Nisrin is struggling and how hard she’s fighting to find that piece of sunshine in a world that is all gloom and doom for such a long time.

Huq colors a vivid narrative where kindness can be found in a world that seems to run on hate, friendships can be mended and formed when needed, and knowing how to fall back on yourself to figure out what permissions you need to reconcile with past hurts to move forward. As someone who has been a fan of her artwork with the water-based media she uses, I’m confident readers finding her work for the first time will fall in love with the gorgeous, full-page illustrations and the heart that is felt in every page. She uses color vividly and surely like a second sense emphasizing the most emotional scenes along with the quietest ones.

This graphic novel is so much more than just a story about a girl choosing to cover her hair, choosing to wear an orna, choosing to wear a hijab. It is a tale about survival, the complexities of family and heritage, and having the courage to dare to thrive. To bloom—to see happier days. The layered narrative speaks volumes about family and inter-generational trauma and life afterward as the young protagonist learns more about her own family: her mother’s family fled the 1971 genocide in Bangladesh.

This graphic novel, appropriate for middle school grade readers, is about a brown-skinned girl working to reclaim her personhood and learning so much along the way.  I also really appreciate Huq’s back matter pages about the country of Bangladesh so artfully presented as Nisrin’s school project. I love all the little touches and details of this book and I’m sure the artistic decision to include after the main story will be educational for readers of all ages.

Piece by Piece: The Story Of Nisrin’s Hijab demonstrates in excellent detail how stories about girls will always matter and are ever so important, for younger readers, and for us all.

Piece by Piece: The Story Of Nisrin’s Hijab is now available where books are sold.


Piece by Piece: The Story Of Nisrin’s Hijab
5

TL;DR

Piece by Piece: The Story Of Nisrin’s Hijab demonstrates in excellent detail how stories about girls will always matter and are ever so important, for younger readers, and for us all.