Welcome to Kicking Back with Kick-butt!
Today we’re chatting with Reem Faruqi, the author of
When Nurah’s family moves from Karachi, Pakistan, to Peachtree City, Georgia, all she really wants is to blend in, but she stands out for all the wrong reasons. Nurah’s accent, floral-print kurtas, and tea-colored skin make her feel excluded, and she’s left to eat lunch alone under the stairwell, until she meets Stahr at swimming tryouts. Stahr covers her body when in the water, just like Nurah, but for very different reasons.
But in the water Nurah doesn’t want to blend in: She wants to stand out. She wants to win medals like her star athlete brother, Owais—who is going through struggles of his own in America—yet when sibling rivalry gets in the way, she makes a split-second decision of betrayal that changes their fates.
As Nurah slowly begins to sprout wings in the form of strong swimming arms, she gradually gains the courage to stand up to bullies, fight for what she believes in, and find her place.
Let’s talk to this outstanding author about her phenomenal book!
This is Reem. Everyone say, “Hi, Reem!”
Welcome to Kick-butt Kidlit, Reem! Tell us about yourself!
Hi Casey! I’m Reem. I’m Pakistani, live in Atlanta, and have three daughters. My writing career started off with my picture book LAILAH’S LUNCHBOX. I’m honored that it’s gotten awards and done so well. My other books are AMIRA’S PICTURE DAY, my debut middle grade novel UNSETTLED, and an upcoming picture book I CAN HELP. I love writing lyrical stories that reflect my experiences.
What was the inspiration behind UNSETTLED?
Like Nurah, I immigrated to Peachtree, Georgia. Unlike Nurah I moved from Abu Dhabi, the United Arab Emirates whereas Nurah moves from my country of origin, Pakistan. Since this experience was similar to mine, it felt natural to write what I knew. I also wanted to write about an immigrant experience that felt true to me.
What were three interesting things you discovered while working on UNSETTLED?
- The power of memory was one thing that struck me while writing this book since it’s loosely based on my life experiences. I can be scatter minded and forgetful, but lots of my stories that I remembered vividly came back to me. I moved when I was thirteen years old, and those experiences shaped who I am today. Interestingly my brothers read my book and had questions about specific experiences and wanted to clarify who said/who did what! It’s fascinating what experiences stay with you and how each person remembers things differently!
- This was my first middle grade book and I had never done copyediting before; it’s so hard and tedious and I celebrated when that stage was over. I also was surprised how many people come together for a middle grade book – cover art designer and illustration, interior art, copy-editing, publicity, marketing, editing, seeing pass pages, going through an arc, aah!
- How peaceful and therapeutic swimming can be. Nurah loves to swim and when writing this story, I felt like I connected with her and refreshed my mind by swimming laps, lots of them!
The differences in sibling memories is so funny and so true!
If you could transport your characters across book dimensions, which book would you most like them to end up in and why?
I feel like Nurah would connect with Jude from OTHER WORDS FOR HOME by Jasmine Warga as they both move to the US. I also think she’d connect with Reha from RED, WHITE, AND WHOLE by Rajani La Rocca as Nurah also has two parts of her, one Pakistani side and one American. I like to think they’d all be friends.
What’s your go-to method to get yourself in the writing mood? Do you have a specific writing spot or special snack? How do you get the words flowing?
I wish I had fun answers for these, but the writing process can be monotonous.
My go-to method is sitting down by my laptop and opening up Microsoft Word. When I get tired of the screen, I try to use a journal and a fancy pen (I like the Sharpie S-Gel 0.7 mm one) if I have one nearby. I love brainstorming with pen and paper although sometimes when I write too fast, I can’t read my writing!
My specific writing spot is my desk nook in the kitchen facing the wall. I like to sit in my usual spot – I find that helps me since I find it hard to write in other places. In the pandemic, I found another writing spot by my upstairs window. I like to write in those two spots in my house. I’ve never been a writer who likes to write in coffee shops. I would get too easily distracted. I also like the smell of coffee but not the taste so I don’t drink coffee. Also, at home I already have too many distractions, but I try to work with my children around.
For a special snack, I don’t really have one, but I’m lucky if I can get a handful of chocolate chips from the freezer. I freeze them because I have really bad self-control. 🙂
Yes! Sometimes taking pen to paper is the best way! I hear you on the trying to decipher your own handwriting problem though, haha!
Why were you drawn to writing middle grade?
I wasn’t! I did not want to write middle grade for the longest time. I have to credit my two earlier agents Ilse Craane and Kendra Marcus who encouraged me to write middle grade because they thought I had the voice for it.
I was a picture book writer and wanted to write and work with children who are shorter than me: I’m 5 feet and three quarters. I was an elementary school teacher and taught second graders.
However, I looooved reading middle grade books and that’s what I exclusively read. I was (and still am!) in awe of middle grade writers.
I attempted my book UNSETTLED in prose, then converted it to verse, and loved that format so much more. It felt much less intimidating to me than a prose novel in middle grade. Now, I enjoy writing middle grade!
Any hints about your next book project?
Gold! … and a character who risks everything to help her family.
Ooooh, I think you’re going to have everyone intrigued by that hint!
What has been the most surprising part of your publishing journey?
- How long it takes – Unsettled took me 4 years (I took lots of breaks in between, gave up many times, and had a new baby – who’s now 3 years old!)
- How the right editor and agent can make a difference for your manuscript(s). I’ve loved working with my agent Rena Rossner and HarperCollins editor Alyson Day.
- How short it takes – after writing Unsettled, my other novel in verse GOLDEN GIRL took me a few months so that was refreshing. I also recommend having an outline before writing, something I learned the hard way!
What are you reading right now?
Right now, I’m enjoying THE ONE AND ONLY IVAN by Katherine Applegate and TWINTUITION by Tia and Tamera Mowry. Also some bedtime stories by Enid Blyton that I had as a child! I also recently finished and loved STARFISH by debut author Lisa Fipps. I tend to read a few books in a go.
What’s your favourite piece of kick-butt advice?
YOU are your best advocate. Try to speak up when you want something a certain way. It doesn’t hurt to ask for something. Lastly, you only fail when you fail to try.
Thank you so much for joining us, Reem!
Kick-butt Kidlit friends, make sure you check out UNSETTLED!
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Thanks for reading!