Aaliyah is bullied in school as a result of her Muslim faith and deals with it by ignoring the racist comments. But when she and a group of friends attend a pop concert which becomes the target for a terrorist bomber her life – and that of her family and community – becomes intolerable. Local anger at the injuries and deaths caused by the bomb finds its outlet in racist abuse and acts of violence against the Muslim community. Dassu writes simply and honestly about the shock and fear generated by the abuse, which sounds all too familiar because it reminds readers that it has, shockingly, become the common parlance of our everyday lives.
Aaliyah decides that running away or hiding who she is will do nothing to stem the racist tide. She resolves to wear a hijab, to declare her faith openly, to ‘empower me to be true to myself and be an ambassador.’ She meets nothing but opposition from the Head Teacher, who bans her from wearing it. Her best friend Lisa turns on her at the prompting of her brother Darren, a member of a white supremacist group planning a huge rally. When Aaliyah discovers that her brother Yusuf intends to break up the rally with the aid of friends she knows she must come up with an idea to unite her own community and so defuse the violence.
The end-of-year School Fete presents her with an ideal opportunity and she and her multi-racial group of friends prepare speeches about the lack of freedom in school and society to be themselves, true to their religious faiths. When the Fete is disrupted and Darren tries to attack Yusuf and is arrested, the tide of local opinion turns against the supremacist group. There are many positive outcomes to the brave stance of Aliyah and her friends, along with an awareness that there are many battles against racism to be fought and they are best fought together. The quality of Dassu’s writing is superb in conveying entrenched attitudes and the power of truth against them. Helpfully, at the back of the book she has included a glossary, a section about how to come together and speak for others and an exploration of the themes in ‘Fight Back.’ This is a wonderful classroom resource-we can only hope that it will be widely used.