Free Radicals

Free Radicals
Age Range
Release Date
March 21, 2023
Buy This Book
Afghan-American Mafi’s sophomore year gets a whole lot more complicated when she accidentally exposes family secrets, putting her family back in Afghanistan in danger in this smartly written YA debut.

Sixteen-year-old Mafi Shahin is well-aware that life is not always fair. If it was fair, her parents might allow her to hang out with a member of the male species, other than her cat Mr. Meowgi. If it was fair, her crush and basketball hottie Jalen Thomas might see her as more than just her brother's kid sister. And if it was fair, her baba’s brother and wife would be able to leave Afghanistan and come to America.

Life might not be fair—but she can make it a bit more even. Working as the Ghost of Santa Margarita High, Mafi serves dollops of justice on her classmates’ behalf as the school’s secret avenger. They leave a note declaring the crime and Mafi ensures the offender receives an anonymous karmic-sized dose of payback. Keeping her identity as the Ghost a secret sometimes means Mafi has to lie. But as those lies begin to snowball both at school and at home, even compromising their family’s secret past and putting their relatives back in Afghanistan at risk, Mafi is forced to decide how she wants to live her life—trying to make the world more fair from the shadows or loudly and publicly standing up for what’s right.

Editor review

1 review
Free Radicals
(Updated: April 26, 2023)
Overall rating
Writing Style
Illustrations/Photos (if applicable)
What worked: This contemporary story is so much more than just a portrayal of a teen who is pushed to being 'invisible' after rumors circulate about her actions. Sixteen-year-old Mafi Shahin crushes after her older brother's friend Jalen Thomas, lives in a house shrouded in secrets of the family left behind in Afghanistan, and her part-time gig as the high school's secret avenger. Mafi has rules that involve never reveal your identity, never involve the police, and don't get emotionally involved. Later she finds that life is so much more complicated than a set of rules.

I really enjoyed Mafi's story and all the messiness surrounding her life. Her Ghosting gig takes some serious wrong turns but leads her to people like trans friend Brit and even a possibility of more than just a friendship with Jalen.

Unique voice that is hilarious at times and also serious with the concept of the decision whether to stand up for what you know is right and what is very important. Family secrets are shown throughout. Mafi knows her Baba-grandfather fled Afghanistan when the Soviets invaded in 1979, but her father refuses to discuss it. There's the black car that idles outside their house. The phone call that might be from the Taliban. Fear of being found and shipped back to Afghanistan has a tight grip on the family. Mafi doesn't get why the secrets. This part of the novel is so authentic and real. Readers 'get' why her father's obsession with pushing aside his Afghanistan heritage in one scene at the Spectrum in Irvine, Ca, where a man accuses Mafi and her brother of being 'terrorists'. This was very real as Orange Co, Ca is conservative. My heart ached for Mafi and her brother.

Mafi's voice is at times humorous with her Ghost attics, but also heartfelt when she shows her love for her Baba. The family relationship is complex and complicated. There's Raf, her older brother who wants an athletic scholarship but his father fears this will endanger the lives of the family left behind in Afghanistan. It, Raf's girlfriend, has her own secret.

PTSD is shown with Jalen's father and how the scent of cologne from Afghanistan is triggering. Mafi's grandfather also shows this with the fear he has that family left behind will be killed.

Moving, heartfelt contemporary story of an Afghanistan American teen that is filled with humor, friendship, love, and the courage to stand up for what is right. Totally tugged at my heartstrings.
Good Points
1. Moving contemporary story filled with heart, courage, friendship, and love.
2. Hilarious at times with characters that are real, authentic
3. Addresses PTSD and also the plight of those left behind in Afghanistan
Report this review Comments (0) | Was this review helpful? 0 0

User reviews

There are no user reviews for this listing.
Already have an account? or Create an account