Just a Hat

Just a Hat
Publisher Name
Blackstone Publishing
Age Range
Release Date
July 18, 2023
Action-packed, humorous, and bittersweet, this 1970s-era coming-of-age novel is more relevant than ever—exploring how a second-generation immigrant kid in a new hometown must navigate bullying, unexpected friendships, and the struggle of keeping both feet firmly planted in two very different cultures.
It’s 1979, and thirteen-year-old Joseph Nissan can’t help but notice that small-town Texas has something in common with Revolution-era Iran: an absence of fellow Jews. And in such a small town it seems obvious that a brown kid like him was bound to make friends with Latinos—which is a plus, since his new buds, the Ybarra twins, have his back. But when the Iran hostage crisis, two neighborhood bullies, and the local reverend’s beautiful daughter put him in all sorts of danger, Joseph must find new ways to cope at home and at school.

As he struggles to trust others and stay true to himself, a fiercely guarded family secret keeps his father at a distance, and even his piano teacher, Miss Eleanor—who is like a grandmother to him—can’t always protect him. But Joseph is not alone, and with a little help from his friends, he finds the courage to confront his fears and discovers he can inspire others to find their courage, too.

Just a Hat is an authentically one-of-a-kind YA debut that fuses the humor of Firoozeh Dumas’s Funny in Farsi with the poignancy of Daniel Nayeri’s Everything Sad Is Untrue.

Editor review

1 review
Jewish Iranian Americans during the Hostage Crisis
Overall rating
Writing Style
Illustrations/Photos (if applicable)
Joseph was born in California, but is now getting ready to enter the 8th grade in Texas in 1978. His parents fled Iran when things became difficult; his cousin Shahla's parents were both killed in a car bombing. Joseph is good friends with neighbors Mateo and Roberto Ybarra, but often comes under attack by neighborhood bullies because he wears a kippah in accordance with his Jewish culture. He has a very close relationship with Miss Eleanor (or LaLa), a grandmotherly older lady who gives piano lessons. He gets groceries for her, helps around the house, and keeps her company, and in exchange, she gives him piano lessons. When he finally retaliates against the hoodlums who are bedeviling him by punching one of them at the store, the police are called. He isn't in trouble with the law, but his father punishes him for his act of violence by beating him, in true 1970s parental fashion. When approached by the football coach to play, Joseph seizes the opportunity, and is soon a talented player. He has a tentative relationship with a girl he thinks is cute, Vonda, but the two recognize that their relationship has no future because of the differences in their religions (she's Baptist) and the objections of their parents. Joseph has his Bar Mitzvah, his father takes flying lessons, and life goes on, but when the Shah of Iran comes to the US for cancer treatments, his mother is upset. Things get worse when the Iranian Hostage Crisis takes place and people in the small Texas town start to turn against the family. When the police question Joseph about a local drug distribution problem, will his knowledge get him in trouble, or put his family in a better position?

Good Points

I haven't seen anything about the plight of Iranian Americans in the US during this horrible time in the 1970s, with the exception of Dumas' It Ain't So Awful, Falafel, and since Joseph's family was also Jewish, this was quite interesting. The father talks frequently about sending Joseph and his mother to live in Israel for safety. The Jewish diaspora was wide spread, and I forget about that until books like this or Behar's Letters from Cuba remind me.

Joseph's experiences are framed in a standard school year, and his relationships with family and friends, his testing of romantic waters, his football and basketball careers, and his experiences with bullied and racism are all framed on that timeline. The chapters have the names of hats, and the format is more anecdotal. The lyrical and introspective quality of the prose made this seem more like a books for adults looking back with nostalgia at past days. The content is middle grade appropriate, although there are several instances where racial and gender slurs common in the 1970s by now forbidden are used.

Readers who want a deeper look into one middle grade characters life experiences that are informed by his Jewish culture and faith will find this an interesting read to pair with Freedman's My Basmati Bat Mitzvah, Garcia's I Wanna Be Your Shoebox, Nockowitz' The Prince of Steel Pier, and ben Izzy's Dreidel's on the Brain.
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