Middle Grade Review: Piece by Piece: The Story of Nisrin’s Hijab (Priya Huq)



About This Book:

In this middle-grade graphic novel, Nisrin will have to rely on faith, friends, and family to help her recover after she is the target of a hate crime

Nisrin is a 13-year-old Bangladeshi-American girl living in Milwaukie, Oregon, in 2002. As she nears the end of eighth grade, she gives a presentation for World Culture Day about Bangladesh while wearing a traditional cultural dress. On her way home, she is the victim of a hate crime when a man violently attacks her for wearing a headscarf.

Deeply traumatized by the experience, Nisrin spends the summer depressed and isolated. Other than weekly therapy, Nisrin doesn’t leave the house until fall arrives and it’s time for her to start freshman year at a new school. The night before class starts, Nisrin makes a decision. She tells her family she’s going to start wearing hijab, much to their dismay. Her mother and grandparent’s shocked and angry reactions confuse her—but they only strengthen her resolve.

This choice puts Nisrin on a path to not only discover more about Islam, but also her family’s complicated relationship with the religion, and the reasons they left Bangladesh in the first place. On top of everything else, she’s struggling to fit in at school—her hijab makes her a target for students and faculty alike. But with the help from old friends and new, Nisrin is starting to figure out what really makes her happy. Piece by Piece is an original graphic novel about growing up and choosing your own path, even if it leads you to a different place than you expected.



*Review Contributed by Karen Yingling, Staff Reviewer*

Personal Memoir and Bangladesh History
Nisrin and her Bangladeshi family live in Oregon in 2002 in the wake of the 9/11 attacks. There isn’t a huge Muslim community there, but they do have a good network of friends and family. When Nisrin wears a hijab to school to illustrate her cultural background for a world cultures day, she is attacked. This is very traumatic for her, and despite the support she recieves, she withdraws. When school starts in the fall, she decides to wear the hijab full time. Her mother is especially concerned about this, since she herself doesn’t wear the traditional garment in order to “fit in” at work. She is given a very hard time about her choice, from the gym teacher, from fellow students, and from people who think she is wearing it because her father told her to. Instead, she wears it because she feels a need to represent her culture. As the school year progresses, she manages to make a new friend, but additional trauma from her past surfaces as well. The family’s time in Bangladesh was marked by a lot of violence, and a bit of this history is covered in Nisrin’s story. Will Nisrin be able to reconcile her past with her present problems in order to move forward in the future?
Good Points
Given the large number of immigrants from a large numbers of countries, there are not as many stories for young readers about different cultures as there should be. The only other story about Bangladeshis that I can think of is Samira Surfs (Guidroz 2021), and the only other graphic novel with a hijabi main character is Fahmy’s 2021 Huda F Are You? It’s good to see this representation.

This is a complicated story that deals with a lot of historical context that young readers should know about. The partitioning of India after World War II, its effects on Bangladesh, and the unreasonable hatred Muslims in the US faced after the 9/11 attacks are all critical and underserved events.

Nisrin’s emotional upheaval is dealt with in a constructive way, and there is a lot to process. While her decision to wear the hijab is not an easy one, she has a lot of trauma from her past that ust be dealt with. The dark, hectic quality of the illustrations supports Nisrin’s emotional state, and it’s good to see a lighter, happier quality to the pictures at the end of the book. There is a nice Guide to Bangladesh at the end.

It’s important to see a variety of stories about young Muslim girls and their decision about wearing a hijab or not. There are a few of these out there,starting with the Australian Does My Head Look Big in This? (2007, Abdel-Fattah) and continuing with the British You’re Not Proper (Mehmoud, 2015), The Garden of My Imaan (Zia, 2013), All-American Muslim Girl (Jolie, 2019) and Barakah Beats ( Siddiqui, 2021). This is a great addition to these books and will be popular with middle school and high school readers.

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