Reading

Litscope: Aries & Susan Muaddi Darraj’s ‘Farah Rocks’

Previous Story
Article Image

Vision Under Quarantine: 15 Baltimore-Based Photo [...]

Next Story
Article Image

Baltimore COVID-19 News Updates from Independent [...]

Litscope is a new column featuring a contemporary book recommendation for the month’s Zodiac, with a dash of Tarot.

By now most of us are safely quarantined in our houses (or at least should be at this point) and despite the feeling as if time is crawling, the world continues to evolve. If there’s any energy that can give us hope and inspiration this April, it’s the baby of the Zodiac, Aries. Born approximately between March 21 and April 19 and ruled by planet Mars, Aries are symbolically represented by The Ram. How apropos considering these energetic, determined, and competitive individuals are ruled by their heads. These strong-willed folks can sometimes be filled with anger, but this fire sign is a loyal friend and their fearlessness is magnetic. Although their youthful spirit may be challenging at times, we need this fire sign’s passion to keep us charging unabashedly forward.

The ideal representative of this progressive, goal-oriented Aries energy is Farah Hajjar, also called Farah “Rocks” due to the Arabic translation of her last name. She’s the 5th-grade protagonist of Baltimore-based author Susan Muaddi Darraj’s new children’s book, Farah Rocks Fifth Grade. Before I continue, you may be thinking, “Doesn’t she know this column is for adults?” I realize most of my audience consists of grown-ups; however, Farah Rocks is a book where adults can learn from the protagonist’s individual sense of responsibility. Much like an Aries, she is intrepid and figures out how to be flexible in difficult times. Therefore, I feel this book has much to teach us about the current moment we’re living in.

Farah Rocks Fifth Grade by Susan Muaddi Darraj

The book’s plot revolves around 12-year-old, Arab-American Farah, who’s planning to apply to the prestigious Magnet Academy Middle school and attend in the fall. However, a new girl in her elementary school, Dana Denver, is a problem. Dana bullies Farah’s little brother, Samir, and his friends, who all have special needs. Clearly, Dana isn’t the most culturally sensitive individual, because when Farah introduces herself, Dana responds, “‘Fa-roh? Like…pharaoh?’ She snickers. ‘Like someone from Egypt?’” And yet, Dana seems to charm everyone she comes in contact with, even teachers.

To add insult to injury, even Farah’s best friend Allie Liu seems to be slipping away from her. But Farah’s bold Aries spirit will be triumphant. Can Farah leave Samir behind to fend for himself while she basks in the wonderfulness of Magnet Academy? The answer to this question and more unfolds as author Muaddi Darraj explores a variety of adult issues. Besides bullying, readers will discover working-class parents who are trying to make ends meet; they will learn about family loyalty, Arabic language and dishes like koosa mahshi. Normally, these issues would feel too advanced to include in a children’s book, but Muaddi Darraj somehow pulls it off with panache.

Farah Rocks reminds me of an autobiographical essay by Judith Ortiz Cofer entitled “Volar,”  published in 2006 which centers a 12-year-old female character with big dreams and an even bigger heart. In Ortiz Cofer’s essay, the narrator dreams of becoming a superhero, more specifically Supergirl, in order to right a few wrongs. She describes their greedy landlord, who her parents fear, and imagines herself as Supergirl playing a trick on the landlord (wearing a golden crown and ermine coat while counting his money) by blowing a puff of her “super-breath” at his stacks of cash, forcing him to recount from scratch. While this is noble, I am saddened that all this responsibility rests on her shoulders.

Similarly, when Farah says, “I want to tell them about Dana, but they trust me to take care of things. So I will find a way to take care of this problem too,” I feel the same twinge of heartbreak. Ortiz Cofer’s character shares Farah’s joie de vivre, but also her sorrows.

“Volar” was one of the first essays I ever read that celebrates a Latina, pre-teen female protagonist. By creating this book, Muaddi Darraj—who is Arab American and born to Palestinian parents—is forging new ground and giving visibility to young girls from this culture. For our current reality, Farah’s character totally embodies the Aries adventurous spirit and I’m confident readers of all ages will love Farah Rocks.

 

Ten of Swords. Photo by author.

Now, I’d like to offer some inspiration, and perhaps guidance, through tarot. This month I meditated and picked a random card for the collective. The Ten of Swords card emerged from my Motherpeace deck. On the card we see priestesses falling (or is it jumping?) off a plateau. Sounds scary, right? However, the image is bathed in yellow light, which connotes joy and optimism. Swords can slice air and generally represent mental energy. They are similar to the air signs of Gemini, Libra, and Aquarius in the Zodiac, primarily thought of as intellectual thinkers.

I feel this card appeared because of the recent move by Saturn (planet of self-control and limitations) into Aquarius (futuristic thinking). Saturn went into Aquarius March 21 and will be there until July 1. The Ten of Swords here signals the end of a mental cycle, a way of thinking. The card represents a dramatic end of sorts, but don’t distress: Whenever there’s an end, a new dawn is on the flip side of that dark night. As we here in Maryland, along with many other states, adhere to the stay-at-home order, it’s time for us to say goodbye to how we as a nation were living in the past. It’s important to let go and graciously purge the old way of life. It is imperative we make space for a more connected and conscious future.

As we transition to cleaner hands and life habits, spend some time thinking about how we as a collective can move gracefully to the next phase of life. Just like Farah learns how to move into her next phase of life at Magnet Academy, we also have to evolve. And the lessons may be painful, but sometimes things have to be destroyed in order to be built back stronger for the future. Now go order your copy of Farah Rocks Fifth Grade for pick up at The Ivy Bookstore pronto! And for those who are jonesin’ for more, Farah Rocks Summer Break, will be out in July.

Related Stories
The best queer stories acknowledge pleasure’s colorful origins, unflattering or otherwise

Each vignette is a high-wire act, teetering along the razor’s edge separating shame and desire, passion and violence, actualization and obliteration.

Featuring: Lana Del Rey, the history of backlash, how a slave changed American food, André Leon Talley, and more

The internet was almost too much for me this week.

Jill Scott and Erykah Badu's battle, Little Richard's death, Stevie Wonder's 70th birthday, D. Watkins and Danny Hersl, biblical mysteries, and more

The internet had a lot of different things going on this week.

Little Simz's new album, Lorraine Hansberry, Ahmaud Arbery and sharing videos of death, the 2020 Pulitzer Prizes, and more

I was kinda really into the internet this week.